As of Wednesday, the city had received 16,528 applications for rental assistance. Out of those, only 10,427 applications were complete with both the landlord and tenant parts submitted and able to be processed.
The landlord must agree to participate in the program because of terms that require their consent, including a rule that they can’t evict tenants for two months after the last rental assistance payment. The payment goes directly to landlords, and so their banking information is also necessary for participation.
Back in September, Philadelphia bumped up the rental assistance by matching the original limit of $750 per month using federal money. Officials chose to increase the payment to incentivize landlords to participate.
When this program was originally offered, landlord participation was as low as 44%, according to Greg Heller, Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. senior vice president of community investment. Now, the landlord participation rate is at 63%.
But also during this time, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order that changed some of the program rules and extended the deadline, which also played a role in getting that rate higher. In particular, the program did away with the requirement that made landlords have to forgive the balance of payment above the program’s $750.
“The importance of having programs is to help families to be able to pay rent, to be able to afford other household costs, to be able to feed their children, to be able to prevent them from becoming homeless,” Heller said. “It’s just so critical.”
Heller said there isn’t an exact figure of how many people they want to reach yet because the agency is gauging need based on how many people apply. So far, he said, it looks as if there is enough funding to assist all eligible applicants.
Paul Cohen, general counsel for the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, representing nearly 2,000 landlords, said many landlords didn’t initially participate because the program process was complicated and didn’t appear to meet their needs.
Cohen said that HAPCO encouraged landlords to participate after the city increased the rental assistance payout and the state agreed to drop the requirement that landlords waive debt balances.
“The problem was that by the time that was all done and the word got out, it was so late in the process, it was difficult to get enough people on board and get the assistance, which is a shame,” Cohen said.
He said that he supports the rental assistance program in its current form, but that there could be improvements.
“It would be helpful if the government would extend the deadline to apply,” Cohen said. “I’d like the landlord to just be able to apply for it and get the assistance, instead of having to be the landlord and tenant.”
As of Wednesday, there were 6,101 applications that cannot be approved in which just the tenant applied and the landlord never responded, according to Heller. If those landlords don’t respond by midnight, those tenants will not be able to be approved.