SCOTUS eviction ruling increases pressure to dole out rental aid money | Monday Morning Coffee

Aid to renters has trickled out slowly as state and local governments scrambled to administer new programs or bolster ones that had been historically underfunded

August 30, 2021 7:23 am

A Pittsburgh resident facing eviction holds up a sign during a rally organized by the Pittsburgh chapter of the United Neighborhood Defense Movement in February 2021 (Image via Pittsburgh City Paper).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling rejecting the Biden administration’s last-ditch effort to extend a federal ban on evictions, which has put hundreds of thousands of American renters at risk of losing their housing, was not a particularly surprising one.

But as Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes in a story distributed across the States Newsroom Network, it has set off a scramble to dole out rental aid money to millions of renters nationwide — including right here in Pennsylvania.

The high court’s ruling came a day after the U.S. Treasury released a new set of data showing that only 11 percent of the $46.5 billion approved by Congress for emergency rental assistance has been allocated. Of the $5.1 billion spent so far, $1.7 billion was doled out during July, Olson writes.

That money has trickled out slowly as state and local governments scrambled to administer new programs or bolster ones that had been historically underfunded, Olson reported.

Meanwhile, housing advocates blasted the Supreme Court decision as undermining efforts to provide stability to renters still struggling amid the pandemic.

“State and local governments are working to improve programs to distribute emergency rental assistance to those in need, but they need more time,” Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told Olson. “The Supreme Court’s decision will lead to many renters, predominantly people of color, losing their homes before the assistance can reach them.”

If the some 500 state and local programs can’t pick up the pace, the money earmarked for their communities may be redistributed, officials at the Treasury Department warned last week. Beneficiaries have until Sept. 30 to dole out at least 65 percent of their rental aid funds, Olson wrote.

(Getty Images photo)

A day after the U.S Supreme Court’s ruling, a progressive, first-term state senator from Philadelphia called on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to issue its own halt to evictions in Pennsylvania.

In a statement released late Friday afternoonSen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, argued that replacing the federal moratorium with state-level protections was needed to save lives amid rising COVID-19 cases, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported.

“In a nation as wealthy as ours, in which the essential right to housing is commodified as a toy for the wealthy elite, there can be no mistake: this decision places the property of those who have more above the very lives of those who have less,” Saval said in remarks soon echoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

“It’s critical that we do everything in our power to keep [Pennsylvanians] safely housed,” Wolf said in a tweet posted soon after Saval released his statement.

Earlier in the week, Saval, joined by several Democratic colleagues in the upper chamber, began seeking co-sponsors for legislation that would require landlords and mortgage-servicers to seek relief through emergency rental assistance and homeowners assistance programs before filing an eviction or foreclosure, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish reported.

“The money is there,” Saval, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, said. “The best tenant you can have is the one you already have who’s just unable to make payments by virtue of them not having access to other income.”

Pennsylvania has received more than $564 million in Emergency Rental Assistance Funds from the feds. Through June, $459 million remained unspent, according to data from the state Department of Human Services. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is also set to administer $350 million in federal funds to help struggling homeowners.

Federal guidelines prohibit evictions based on missed payments through Oct. 3, Parish reported.

Housing advocates stage a demonstration outside a press conference held by Gov. Tom Wolf (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison).

Zooming back out to the national level, recently released U.S. Census data suggests that many Americans are still in need of housing help, and thousands have been waiting to access the help already approved, Olson reported.

More than 1.2 million households say they are very likely to face eviction during the next two months, according to the bureau’s Pulse survey, Olson wrote.

And, while 2.8 million households have applied for rental aid, 1.5 million are still waiting on a response. Of those that have received a response, nearly 700,000 have been rejected and only about 500,000 reported receiving assistance, Olson reported.

Meanwhile, a handful of states still have their own eviction bans in place. New Mexico and New Jersey have bans on residential evictions, and Nevada, Minnesota and Michigan are among states that have banned evictions while a renter is applying for rental assistance, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association

On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats have pledged their assistance in getting rental aid dollars flowing faster. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her chamber — which is not scheduled to return to session until Sept. 20 — is “assessing possible legislative remedies,” Olson reported.

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters is examining the most effective way to expedite the flow of funding of rental assistance by states and localities,” Pelosi said. “Families must be protected during the pandemic, and we will explore every possible solution.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, slammed the Biden administration for moving ahead with a “shortsighted” extension of the eviction ban, and congressional Democrats for not taking up a Republican-drafted proposal to overhaul the rental assistance program, Olson reported.

“Instead of taking up this bill, Democrats fixated on political stunts and strong-arming their progressive agenda through Congress,” McHenry said. “Now the Supreme Court has spoken, and Democrats must live with the consequences of their inaction.”

In Pennsylvania, Democrats continued to focus on the human cost amid the partisan sparring. In their co-sponsorship memo, lawmakers said they’ve heard from constituents facing evictions because they fell behind on rent because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

“These are not choices that anyone should have to make,” Saval said. “I think that these are not choices that should be affecting landlords’ ability to receive payments, especially when the money is there for that.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of the Numbers Racket, Cassie Miller takes a look at back-to-school spending, and finds that families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $848.90 on school items – an increase of $59 from last year.

In a special report, our friends at explain why the COVID-19 booster rollout (probably) won’t repeat last spring’s scramble.

Marley Parish runs down everything you need to know about the Senate GOP’s rejiggered forensic investigation of Pennsylvania’s election results.

Prison inmates around the U.S., including right here in Pennsylvania, are getting the chance to do something that was almost unheard of a generation ago: pursue a college degree while behind bars and with financial support from the federal government. Capital-Star National Correspondent Dan Vock has the story.

After an earlier veto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is pitching a new countywide paid sick leave bill, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman exults in a federal judge’s righteous smackdown of the feckless MAGA legal team. And a union leader (and Certified Nursing Assistant) explains why the Legislature needs to get nursing home reform over the finish line this fall.

En la Estrella-Capital: ‘Nuestra lucha no ha terminado‘: dice el gobernador Wolf, pero la declaración de desastre de opioides de Pa. si. A pesar de una solicitud del gobernador Wolflos legisladores Republicanos no ordenarán mascarillas en las escuelas de K-12.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – AUGUST 10 : Displaced Afghans reach out for aid from a local Muslim organization at a makeshift IDP camp on August 10, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban has taken control of six provincial capitals, among other towns and trade routes, since the United States accelerated withdrawal of its forces this year. Afghan families from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces have arrived in Kabul in greater numbers, fleeing the Taliban advance. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)

Rents are up in Philadelphia and the rest of the country — and they’re expected to keep rising, the Inquirer reports.

Two decades later, Pittsburgh International Airport is still trying to rebound from the effects of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Post-Gazette reports.

Spotlight PA looks at the MAGA makeover of Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre (via WITF-FM).

Why does tiny Middletown Borough in Dauphin County spend so much on police overtime? PennLive tries to get an answer (paywall).

A 5-year-old boy who was swept into the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County on Sunday afternoon was found dead, LancasterOnline reports.

Five hundred Afghan refugees have arrived in Philadelphia, and more are expected soon, WHYY-FM reports.

And in York County, the father of a U.S. Marine who died in Afghanistan wonders whether his son’s death was worth it, the York Daily Record reports.

Hispanics now make up the majority of Allentown’s population, and political hopefuls are trying to build their clout, the Morning Call reports.

Officials in Jackson Township, Luzerne County, home to a state prison, have questions about a change in redistricting policy that will count incarcerated individuals in their home municipalities, rather than where they’re serving their time, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

PoliticsPA rounds up last week’s winners and losers in state politics.

Capitol Hill Republicans didn’t flinch at raising the debt ceiling for former President Donald Trump. Democrats are getting ready to make them publicly refuse to raise it for President Joe BidenPolitico reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
10:30 a.m., Soliders & Sailors Grove: Newser by the Depts. of Human Services and Labor & Industry
1 p.m., Teamsters Local 773 Union Hall, Whitehall, Pa: House Democratic Policy Committee
1 p.m., Lebanon Valley Exposition Center, Lebanon, Pa.: House Republican Policy Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
7 a.m.: Golf outing for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny
          8:30 am.: Golf outing for Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana
Hit both events and give at the max, and you’re out an absolutely offensive $10,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
After the high-water mark of 1966’s ‘Pet Sounds,’ The Beach Boys found themselves adrift for most of the rest of the 1960s as the music scene changed around them. At the dawning of the 1970s, the band released two LPs, ‘Sunflower‘ and ‘Surf’s Up,’ that restored them both creatively and commercially. A sprawling new reissue, ‘Feel Flows,’ collects both LPs and the studio ephemera and outtakes behind them. It’s miraculous and revelatory listening. I lost the better part of the weekend to it. And it’s a great way to soundtrack your Monday morning.

Monday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
The table for the new season of the Premier League is starting to take shape, and Arsenal find themselves occupying some very unfamiliar real estate. The Gunners are dead last after getting steamrolled, 5-0, by Manchester City on Saturday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.