HomeBensalem TimesLocals facing eviction urged to apply for financial help

Locals facing eviction urged to apply for financial help

About $40 million is available through the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance program to aid renters and landlords

Help is here: Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners, is urging locals facing eviction to apply for the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance program, which has about $40 million available. Source: BucksCounty.org

According to a recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 225,000 Pennsylvania adults are living in households where they are somewhat likely or very likely to be evicted within the next two months.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended its moratorium on evictions through Oct. 3 for counties with substantial (which includes Bucks) or high levels of COVID-19 transmission, county officials are urging their constituents to apply for extra protection before this moratorium expires.

During a recent news conference in Doylestown, the Bucks County Commissioners were joined by representatives from state and local housing authorities to remind residents about the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance program, which currently has about $40 million available to help renters and landlords who have suffered financial hardship due to or during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to make sure that everyone in Bucks County is able to stay in their home, that they can pay their rent,” said Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners. “We’re here to make sure that everyone has that sanctuary.”

Since its inception, the BERA program has used $9.2 million to assist more than 1,000 county households, with another 400 applications being processed. The program has an 85 percent acceptance rate for those who have applied.

“COVID-19 is still a threat, families are still not back on their feet, landlords – especially those I’ve met who rely on that rental income to support their retirement – are still struggling. The last thing we need is to have a wave of evictions displacing families as this delta variant surges and the new school year begins,” said state Sen. Maria Collett. “That’s why we’ve come together today to remind you, it’s not too late to apply for this program.”

Households may be eligible for up to 18 months of assistance to cover past-due or future rental and/or utility payments. Either tenants or landlords can apply for the program, but a tenant does not need a landlord’s permission to apply and use this assistance. Since BERA is an opportunity to help ease circumstances for both parties, landlords and tenants are encouraged to work cooperatively to secure this assistance.

Renters applying for BERA must meet the following criteria: a family of four with income of $77,300 or less; an individual with an income of $54,150 or less; at risk of homelessness due to economic hardships that occurred due to or during the pandemic.

Applicants need to provide the following information: head of household’s personal information; income information for all household members 18 and older; rental lease and amount owed; and the landlord’s name and contact information. If applying for utility assistance, applicants must provide utility expenses and utility provider information.

BERA is part of the statewide Emergency Rental Assistance Program, established by the Wolf Administration in partnership with the General Assembly through Act 1 of 2021 to distribute $569 million to Pennsylvania households through partnerships with local leaders. ERAP is overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services but is administered locally by county and municipal partners.

“For nearly 18 months, Pennsylvania and the nation have endured the instability, anxiety and dangers of a global pandemic,” said Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “Eviction bans were established to help people stay safely housed if they were unable to pay rent due to lost jobs or reduced hours connected to COVID. But because the eviction moratorium is time-limited, it is critical that people take advantage of help available to protect themselves and apply for ERAP now.”

For anyone unsure whether or not they qualify for BERA, participants at the news conference urged them to just apply. According to Jeffrey Fields, director of Bucks County’s Department of Housing & Community Development, there is essentially no wait list. Approximately 45 employees, including county staff, nonprofit partners and a third-party call center, are on hand to process applications.

“There are protections in place for Bucks residents for the next three months. It is crucial that we get the word out about the availability of the BERA assistance to all tenants and landlords who need it before those protections lapse,” said Fields. “Despite having helped more than 1,000 households, we know there is more need.”

In addition to the CDC extending its moratorium on evictions, Bucks County President Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. has issued an order that a 30-day continuance is automatically available to any tenant facing eviction who has applied for the BERA program. Bateman’s order is in effect until Oct. 31.

To apply for assistance, Bucks County residents can visit buckscounty.org/renthelp to review eligibility criteria and fill out an application on a cell phone or computer. Residents that need assistance or have questions can call the BERA helpline at 888-50-BUCKS.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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