Landlords thankful for rent relief program

Terrie Morgan-Besecker, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
·3 min read

Feb. 28—Tom Hoppel is still trying to collect about $6,000 in owed rent over the past several months on some of his eight Scranton units.

"I appreciate people are struggling, but so are the little landlords," Hoppel said. "I wish the government would appreciate that a little bit."

A nearly yearlong moratorium on evictions protected tenants, but created financial hardships for many landlords.

Housing advocates and landlord associations say they're hopeful a newly approved round of federal funding for rent relief will help ease the burden on both.

Congress recently approved a $25 billion package to help low- to moderate-income residents pay back rent and utilities, of which Pennsylvania received $847.7 million. Lackawanna County, which plans to begin accepting online applications within the next few weeks, received $6.2 million and Luzerne County, $9.4 million.

The program is open to both tenants and landlords, who can file on their tenants' behalf as long as they notify the person they're doing so.

Officials say the funding comes at a critical time for renters as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions is set to expire March 31.

It's a lifeline for many landlords pushed to the financial brink.

"We are now at a juncture where many landlords need to sell their properties because they can't meet the financial obligation," said Rita Dallago, executive director of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association, a trade association for real estate investors and landlords.

Officials say the funding is a big help, but whether it will be enough to make all landlords whole remains to be seen.

Nationwide, tenants owed $30 billion to $70 billion in back rent as of Dec. 31, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. About 9.6 million households reported they were behind in rent as of Feb. 1, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dallago said her group's roughly 10,000 members reported they are owed $6 million in back rent dating back to April.

"Right now, the numbers we are looking at, it's probably not going to be completely sufficient, but it may be very close," she said of the funding.

Hoppel, 61, said he's also relieved to learn help is on the way. He did not file eviction proceedings against any of his tenants because most were making a good faith effort to pay.

"These people are like my family," he said. "I try to work with them."

It has taken a toll on his finances, he said, causing him to fall behind on taxes. The rent relief program hopefully will help him recover most of the owed back rent so he can pay property taxes, he said.

"This is exactly what I need," he said.

Two other programs for Scranton residents are also encouraging, said Lori Molloy, executive director of North Penn Legal Services.

Scranton earmarked $1.1 million of federal funds it received for a separate program to help city residents who owe back rent and utilities. That program, administered through the city's Department of Economic and Community Development, expects to accept applications starting in mid-March.

Scranton also is creating a mediation program for landlord-tenant disputes. If both parties agree, the case would go before a mediator to help them try to resolve the dispute instead of going to court.

The program, funded by a $10,000 grant from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, is expected to begin soon, said Lackawanna County Court Administrator Frank Castellano. Initially, it will only be offered at Magisterial District Judge Joanne Corbett's office.

The county may expand it to other offices if funding is available.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of tenants facing eviction who don't have enough income to pay rent," Molloy said. "These programs will help them."

Contact the writer:

tbesecker@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9137;

@tmbeseckerTT on Twitter.