Philadelphia City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks, and Jamie Gauthier introduced a package of bills protecting renters for the duration of the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.
The six bills and one resolution, known as the Emergency Housing Protection package, were introduced May 1, 2020, during which council considered a revised budget submitted by the mayor.
The legislation would extend the eviction moratorium, create a renter repayment plan and an eviction diversion program, subsidize rents and wave late fees for the duration of the crisis, allow renters who are illegally displaced to recover damages, and appeals to the state and federal government to stabilize the housing market.
“Earlier this month, nearly a third of our nations 13.5 million renters were unable to pay their April rent,” Councilmember Helen Gym said via Facebook Live. “And we anticipate those numbers will significantly worsen when rent is due tomorrow.”
Gym said Philadelphia municipal courts had a backlog of between 1500-2000 evictions due to be heard when courts are once again open.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said the first bill would allow renters experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic to enter into payment plans with their landlords.
“As city councilmembers, we do not have the authority to cancel rent or provide mortgage relief to landlords at the local level,” Gauthier said. “But the next best thing we can do is give renters resources that they might not otherwise have in negotiations with their landlord.”
The bill would allow renters the ability to enter into a payment plan with their landlord for up to 12 months if the renter lost their job or had their hours reduced as a result of the pandemic. Renters would be able to enter into the payment plans if they themselves or a family member contracted the virus. According to the bill, tenants would pay their monthly rent, as well as a monthly repayment installment, once the 12-month period begins.
The bill also stipulates landlords inform tenants of the repayment plan 60 days before initiating an eviction proceeding.
The second bill allows renters who are illegally locked out of their home to take action against their landlord by filing with the Fair Housing Commission or the Court of Common Pleas.
“Illegal evictions are a traumatic event, and people are struggling through this pandemic enough as it is,” Gauthier said. “We need to make sure Philadelphians do not experience compounding problems as a result of this crisis.”
Councilmember Kendra Brooks intends to introduce a rent-stabilization bill that will continue for a year after the crisis. The bill would limit the amount landlords can increase rents, retroactive to Mar. 1, 2020. Brooks is also introducing a bill to waived late fees on rent during the crisis and for two months after.
“When we’re out of work, late fees and penalties go up,” Brooks said. “Eliminating fees will decrease the amount of debt struggling renters accrue.”
Gym is calling for an extension of the eviction moratorium for 60 days after the lifting of the emergency order. This bill would also apply to businesses renting space that employ under 100 employees.
Also, Gym is sponsoring legislation creating an eviction diversion program that will run through Dec. 31, 2020. The program will require renters and landlords to enter into mediation prior to the filing of an eviction
There is uncertainty surrounding the efficacy and financial commitment the city can make to these efforts due to probable cuts to the budget, which could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
After introduction, the legislation will be referred to appropriate committees, most likely seeing final passage in three to four weeks.