City Council members rally support for eviction diversion initiatives

eviction diversion
Housing advocates hold up signs Wednesday, April 3, during a City Council news conference.

A group of City Council members plans to introduce legislation Thursday to make Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program permanent.

They are also advocating, as part of ongoing municipal budget negotiations, for $100 million to be spent over two years for a related rental assistance program. Mayor Cherelle Parker did not include funding for the initiative in her proposed spending plan.

“When corporate landlords refuse to address conditions that are hurting families, hurting our children, we need to let them know that our neighborhoods belong to us,” said Councilmember At-Large Kendra Brooks, one of the leaders of the housing campaign.

Since 2022, landlords have been required to participate in the city’s Eviction Diversion Program before taking legal action to remove a tenant. Through the process, mediators and housing counselors attempt to reach an agreement between the sides. Eviction is averted in about two-thirds of cases, according to the city.

The initiative, which has received national attention, is set to expire in June. The bill being sponsored by Brooks and three of her colleagues would eliminate that sunset clause.

Last year, then Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration added a new wrinkle to the diversion program – Targeted Financial Assistance. For those eligible, TAF pays a landlord any past-due costs and two additional months of rent for the tenant.

Nearly 3,800 landlords have been paid through TAF, with an average one-time payment of $4,000, according to Parker’s five-year plan. Landlords who accept the money must agree not to pursue eviction until 60 days after the last month when rent was covered.

Kenney’s office allocated $30 million annually for two years to support TAF; and while the Parker administration has signaled support for the Eviction Diversion Program, her budget proposal did not incorporate TAF.

Brooks, of the Working Families Party, argued that eviction diversion and payment assistance should go together. Five other lawmakers – including Majority Whip Isaiah Thomas – showed up to support the campaign at a City Hall news conference Wednesday.

City Councilmember Kendra Brooks speaks Wednesday, April 3, during a news conference announcing new housing legislation.JACK TOMCZUK

Evictions have declined significantly in Philadelphia since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when the state enacted a since-expired moratorium and the city began its eviction diversion initiatives.

Over the past year, nearly 12,900 eviction cases have been filed in Philadelphia court, down 39% from pre-COVID numbers, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Black women are most impacted by eviction, data from the lab shows.

Brooks said she was nearly displaced from her home when she lost her job, prior to her time in Council. “That’s when I realized that a stable home is more important than anything else for the health, safety and success of a family,” she said.

In addition to the eviction diversion bill, first-term Council members Rue Landau and Nicolas O’Rourke plan to offer a resolution Thursday calling for hearings examining city inspections of rental units.

Several tenants shared their stories during Wednesday’s event, discussing plumbing and other problems that went unrepaired – leading to mold and health issues.

Haniah Harvey recounts her housing struggles during a City Council news conference Wednesday, April 3.JACK TOMCZUK

Haniah Harvey, 26, recounted reporting leaks and mice that went unaddressed by the landlord at the North Philadelphia apartment where she lived with her 9-year-old son until about a year ago. The Department of Licenses and Inspections, she said, eventually shut the building down, and she was homeless for three weeks, staying in a hotel.

“It’s not like I’m not working. I don’t sit around,” Harvey said, discussing her financial struggles. “I’ve been working since 14. I do my best every day for me and my son.”