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More than 5,000 households avoided eviction in Bucks and Montgomery counties during the COVID-19 pandemic under a federal rent assistance program, but advocates fear that may soon change. spectacular.

Some tenants behind in rent due to pandemic-related job changes are starting to hit the 18-month limit for financial assistance – just as local moratoriums on evictions are set to expire by the end of the year. end of this month.

This raises fears that evictions will skyrocket and affordable housing plummets as some landlords seek to take advantage of the boiling rental and real estate markets, advocates have said.

“We are not yet out of this pandemic,” said Joshua Goldblum, attorney general of Legal Aid for Southeastern Pennsylvania, which represents low-income clients facing eviction. “We expect a push. ”

Learn more about evictions:Bucks County is extending eviction protection to certain tenants who owe rent. Here is what you need to know

So far, the Bucks County Emergency Rental Assistance Program has used more than $ 16 million to prevent more than 1,800 evictions since the money became available in April, Fields said. , director of Bucks County Housing and Community Development, which oversees the funds.

The county has received more than $ 50 million for eviction prevention under the program, with additional allocations planned, Fields said.

Neighboring Montgomery County distributed $ 30.5 million, nearly a third of its $ 86.6 million in emergency rent assistance, and prevented 3,543 evictions, according to the county spokesperson , Kelly Cofrancisco.

The funding, which is among the top two federal pandemic relief bills, can be used to pay for up to 15 months of rent, utilities, late fees, and other housing-related expenses retroactively to the 1st. April 2020, for those who meet the eligibility conditions. Individuals can also claim additional coverage of three months of advance rent.

Tenants who participate in the relief program must sign an affidavit certifying that their inability to pay their rent is directly or indirectly related to the pandemic. Participating landlords must agree, as a condition of payment, not to evict a tenant.

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In Bucks County, records and evictions between landlords and tenants remain lower than pre-pandemic statistics, according to Lauren Harbison, senior administrative officer for the county’s minor justice.

“The significant decrease in deposits and evictions appears to be related to the diversion programs in place in Bucks County,” Harbison said.

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District courts received a total of 185 new cases in August and 234 new cases in September. As of Oct. 12, 43 more landlord-tenant petitions had been filed, Harbison said.

These statistics are about 55% lower than the average of 468 new deposits per month in 2019, she added.

Possession orders, the legal step before eviction, in August and September were also on average 64% lower than pre-pandemic figures in Bucks County. Since August, at least 146 active orders have been granted, but it is not known whether any orders were for people eligible for the BERA program.

Montgomery County saw a slight increase in owner-tenant deposits after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions ended on October 3, but otherwise deposits have remained virtually unchanged in recent months, Cofrancisco said. .

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Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved requests by Bucks and Montgomery counties to delay eviction cases for up to 60 days for tenants eligible for federal rent assistance.

Learn more about the Bucks eviction moratorium:Pennsylvania Supreme Court gives green light to Bucks County eviction stay program

The two local county moratoria expire Oct. 31, and Pennsylvania’s highest court has said it will not approve an extension, meaning district judges can move eviction cases forward.

The expiration of the moratoria has allowed some housing and justice advocates to prepare for an increase in evictions.

Bucks Tenant Solidarity protesters stand outside the Bucks County Justice Center on Thursday, June 24, 2021, calling attention to the housing crisis and calling on authorities to stop the evictions.  The group's mission is to empower tenants and protect housing rights.

93 Bucks County families reached the 18-month limit for BERA on Friday, Fields said.

“We do not have specific data at this stage regarding the results for these clients, as this is a fairly new phenomenon due to the end of the moratorium,” he said.

The Bucks County Opportunity Council began working with households approaching or having reached maximum aid limits and said they were still financially unstable or the landlord was unwilling to renew the lease. The agency is working to provide these families with individual housing advice on budgeting and increasing income, Fields said.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Legal Aid is adding another paralegal position to focus on housing cases in Bensalem in anticipation of an increase there, General Counsel Joshua Goldblum said. Bensalem uses the community grant money to fund the post.

The majority of cases handled by the agency continue to involve tenants in arrears with rent due to circumstances related to the pandemic, Goldblum said.

He praised the BERA program in Bucks County as being effective and efficient, but he’s also worried about what will happen in November when district judges can once again push forward with evictions.

In Pennsylvania, tenants can be excluded from their home 10 days after obtaining a final judgment of possession.

“There have been many successful complaint resolutions where this has worked as we hoped,” Goldblum said. “I think things will change on November 1. I think we’re going to see an increase in owner-renters because I don’t think the economy has recovered.”

How to Get Rental Aid in Bucks and Montgomery Counties

For general information and frequently asked questions about the federal COVID-19 rental assistance program, visit the US Department of the Treasury website at home.treasury.gov.

Bucks County Emergency Rental Aid

More information about the program and an application is available at buckscounty.gov/828/Emergency-Rental-Assistance-BERA, or call 888-50-BUCKS.

Applicants do not need to be in arrears of rent to apply for the program, and the program can provide up to three months of advance rent for those who qualify.

Montgomery County Rent and Emergency Utilities Coalition Program

For more program information, visit yourwayhome.org/eruc, call 2-1-1, or text your zip code to 898-211.

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