Pennsylvania and Bucks County officials joined together on Tuesday to urge qualified residents and their landlords to apply for rental assistance.
More than $1 billion in assistance will be available statewide to renters and landlords who suffered financial losses during the COVID pandemic. But state and local officials say more people need to be made aware of the programs and apply for the money so that the program can be fully effective.
“I can’t stress enough the historical investment this is in our communities,” Meg Snead, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, said at a news conference outside the Bucks County Administration Building in Doylestown. “We want every one of those dollars to stay in Pennsylvania.”
The Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) program has about $40 million available right now for financial assistance to renters and landlords who have suffered financial hardship due to or during the COVID pandemic. So far, the program has used $9.2 million in Bucks to assist more than 1,000 households, with another 400 applications being processed.
The BERA program has an 85 percent acceptance rate for those who have applied.
“Despite having helped more than 1,000 households, we know there is more need,” said Jeffrey Fields, director of Bucks County’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “It is of particular importance that those who are eligible for rental assistance get it, particularly before additional protections lapse.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended its moratorium on evictions through October 3, but applies only to counties with substantial or high levels of COVID-19. Bucks County currently is listed as having a substantial level.
In addition, 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.
Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners, said that during the recent increases in COVID-19 infections, “we are reminded of how important our homes are,” because they offer sanctuary and safety.
“We want to make sure that everyone in Bucks County is able to stay in their home, that they can pay their rent,” Marseglia said. “We’re here to make sure that everyone has that sanctuary.”
BERA is designed to prevent evictions for renters and give landlords the funds needed to operate their properties. Residents must apply in order to determine eligibility and landlords can encourage their tenants to complete an application.
Renters applying for BERA must meet the following criteria:
The most common reasons for a BERA application to get denied are exceeding the income threshold or filing an application in the wrong jurisdiction. Participants in Tuesday’s news conference urged people to “just apply,” as simply filling out an application can give a tenant a 30-day protection from eviction.
Fields said that as of Tuesday, there is essentially no wait list for the program’s approximately 45 employees – a combination of county staff, non-profit partners and a third-party call center – to process applications.
Statewide, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) had received 30,500 applications and awarded about $133 million awarded through June 30.
A recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that more than 225,000 Pennsylvania adults were living in households where they were somewhat likely or very likely to be evicted within the next two months.
This was especially true in communities of color, “which not only suffered higher rates of COVID-19 but have disproportionately experienced economic hardships and adverse health effects as a result of the pandemic,” Snead explained.
Even before the COVID pandemic, “30 percent of Bucks County residents were earning less than the basic cost of living in the county,” said State Sen. Maria Collett, who represents portions of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
Through BERA and other county-affiliated services, including the Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC), help is available.
“At this time, no one should be evicted for lack of funds,” said Erin Lukoss, Executive Director of BCOC. “You just need to call or apply online.”
To apply for assistance, Bucks residents can go online to www.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.
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