Philly’s COVID recovery

With over 45,000 Philadelphians waiting for rent relief, the city is running out of money

Philly is distributing more funding than earlier in the pandemic, but many residents are still waiting.

A street in Philly's Francisville neighborhood

A street in Philly's Francisville neighborhood

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
jasonpeter

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Six months into implementing Philadelphia’s federally-backed rent relief program, officials say the city has distributed about 90% of its funding, and is close to running out of cash.

“We have funding in hand to last about two more weeks,” city spokesperson Jamila Davis told Billy Penn last week about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Additional money is expected to arrive soon, Davis said, but it’s only expected to last “roughly another six weeks.”

There’s a big backlog to cover. Of more than 60,000 applications for rental assistance in Philly’s latest program phase, only about a quarter have been approved.

Experts told Spotlight PA the city would need $276 million to cover all the existing applications — not counting the 1,500 new ones that arrive each week. The additional funds on the way total just $35 million, per the report.

The program has been frustrating even for some of those who get approved, with wait times stretching months.

“The payments came so late that I had to pay rent … and work it out so I didn’t owe in the next few months,” explained Francisville resident Jeanette Lloyd. It took so long that Lloyd took out a loan. “I was terrified of losing my apartment during a pandemic,” she said.

Point Breeze resident Brendan Charlton turned to his savings to cover rent. The 26-year-old bartender said his application for Philly rent relief has been marked as pending for five months, one of over 16,000 applications with the same status.

Why is it stuck in limbo? Probably because it’s missing information — the part his landlord is supposed to fill out. “My landlord never responded when I asked three times,” Charlton said.

Applications like this are marked pending instead of denied, said Davis, the city spokesperson, to give them a chance at future funding. Will there be money to cover them? Unclear.

Pennsylvania, which administers the federal program throughout the commonwealth, says it will meet the need. In February, the state allocated $564 million for rent and utilities relief. Through six months, $278 million had been distributed — the fifth most of any state in the country,

“There is enough money in ERAP to ensure that nobody who meets the income thresholds is evicted as a result of COVID,” said Pa. DHS Communications Director Brandon Cwalina. “Counties won’t stop distributing funds until their funds are exhausted.”

But that money may not make its way to Philadelphia.

More than 47% of Philadelphians are renters, according to census data. That’s 15 points higher than the state average, and about double neighboring Bucks County. So while Philly has a backlog of rent relief applications and is on the verge of running out of funds, Bucks has spent “less than 25%” of its program funds, County Commissioner Bob Harvie told the Bucks County Courier Times.

Philadelphia is giving out more rent relief right now than anytime since the pandemic hit the region.

During the first three phases of the program, which used CARES Act funds, Philly distributed about $65 million, according to a city dashboard. This phase of the distribution effort has already delivered nearly twice as much — over $122 million.

Of neighborhoods across the city, Germantown, Haddington, and Kingsessing received the highest volume of rent relief, with nearly 1,000 households served. Nearly two-thirds of all approved applicants were women, and nearly two-thirds of approved applicants were between the ages of 18 and 40.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s COVID recovery stories.

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