The tenant eviction crisis in Philly, where there are four times as many evictions than foreclosures, just took a step forward with the launch of the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, a new set of legal and financial services for renters in danger of losing their home.
“What this will do is help make sure that the court works in a more fair manner and helps tenants understand their rights and get the best outcome,” said Eva Gladstein, the city’s deputy managing director of Health and Human Services. “That’s the goal of the project.”
Here’s how the Eviction Prevention Project works: Tenants now have access to a long list of services from legal to financial counsel that can help them whether or not they’re currently facing eviction.
Some of the main services include:
- A new hot line called Tenant Legal Aid Referral Line (267-443-2500) that tenants can call for help.
- The website launch of www.phillytenant.org, which offers information on basic tenant rights and answers to questions like “How do I get my landlord to make repairs?” and “How do I get legal help?”
- Court navigators who can help you through the process when you’re actually in the courtroom.
- A volunteer “lawyer of the day” who will be in the courtroom to help tenants who don’t already have representation.
“Just having people even understand what is happening in court makes a huge difference in terms of having a fair outcome,” said Gladstein.
The project launch comes at a time when 1 in 14 renters in Philly were handed eviction notices in 2016. Last year, Councilwoman Helen Gym put out a call to address the eviction crisis, which disproportionately affects African Americans and women.
“When we first started unpacking a lot of what has been going on with the eviction crisis in Philadelphia, we met with advocates and heard from them directly,” said Gym. “When we heard that there were four times as many evictions in the city of Philadelphia than there were foreclosures, I got angry.”
In October 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney created a 27-person Eviction Task Force to study the city’s eviction crisis. City Council and the Department of Planning and Development’s also allocated $500,000 to help renters fight eviction.
Those funds have gone toward the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, which will be spearheaded by Community Legal Services and several other local housing and legal organizations.
The hope, too, is that the eviction prevention project will help reduce the rate of tenants being evicted from their home and thereby prevent homelessness. Said Gladstein, “People were aware of foreclosure in terms of families losing their homes, being destabilized, losing jobs, and their health, but people were not focusing on evictions. And yet we have so many evictions occurring, which are causing the same issues, if not more so because they have less security than a homeowners.”
“So in terms of making sure our neighborhoods are safe and healthy, this is a really important.”
Gym said this isn’t the last of the Eviction Task Force’s efforts to combat the eviction crisis. “Housing is a human right and we’re trying as a city to figure out what that looks like and how we do it in the best interests of everybody. We’re still far from doing as much as we hoped, but we have made a significant step today in announcing that the experiences of people who are too often neglected are not going to go unnoticed.”