The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in some way—from working and schooling at home and the addition of daily Zoom calls, to the constant worry about the health and well-being of our family, friends, and community.
For many low-income residents in the Lehigh Valley, the pandemic has added another layer of instability, especially for those who have suffered economically by a reduction of hours or complete job loss. As of Sept. 3, there were more than 600 eviction complaints filed in Lehigh and Northampton Magisterial Courts, according to a report by The Morning Call.
Third Street Alliance has partnered with five nonprofits throughout the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh and Northampton Counties and the District Magistrate Courts to help those facing eviction from their homes. The Eviction Prevention Program provides funding to help tenants stay in place while paying landlords back rent owed to them during the crisis.
“The Eviction Prevention Program is a real collaboration of federal and local governments and community agencies,” said Janice Thomas, Director of Homeless Services. “Instead of it being a program of good intentions, it’s putting money where it actually belongs. The program will address the issue of people keeping their homes, instead of being forced into homelessness.”
The program was developed by the Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board (LVRHAB) of which our Executive Director, Alisa Baratta is co-chair, to help prevent many families and individuals from becoming homeless due to the financial devastation of the pandemic. While evictions were put on hold through the summer in Pennsylvania, agency leaders through the Lehigh Valley realized early on that safety net programming needed to be put in place before the moratorium ended.
Third Street Alliance has received more than 130 applications for assistance since the start of the eviction prevention program: 91 of those have been given assistance, and another 35 applications are being processed. Eight households have been assisted directly by the Dept. of Human Services.
The LVRHAB worked with judges in both counties to help write the program. While tenants can contact providers for help, landlords can also apply if they have tenants that meet the program requirements and are willing to participate. Magisterial judges will also refer qualifying landlords and tenants to the program when evictions are filed in court.
The program continues to secure public and private funds to use in both Lehigh and Northampton Counties and will provide back rent payments directly to landlords once an agreement is made between parties.
“The calls that we have received are heartbreaking, and people are scared, not just of becoming homeless, but of becoming homeless with their children in the middle of a pandemic,” Janice said. “Landlords are suffering financially as well. And although there is a plan in place to assist, the pot of money provided by the government will only go so far.”
Other partnering agencies include Catholic Charities of the Allentown Diocese, Lehigh Conference of Churches, The Easton Neighborhood Center, New Bethany Ministries, and ProJeCt of Easton.