RHLS and Community Partners Continue to Respond to COVID-19

RHLS and our many community partners continue to work tirelessly to address the housing-related impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

In the late spring, RHLS received a grant of $1.2 million from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act (CARES). This enabled RHLS staff to continue responding to COVID-19 through our own work as well as through partnerships with other organizations providing vital services to individuals and families across the Commonwealth.

RHLS is proud to have supported the projects listed below and to have spent over 3,500 hours responding to COVID-19 related needs since the onset of the pandemic.

Some of the important work that has taken place over the course of the year includes:

  • Advocating for $175 million in renter and mortgage payment assistance for Pennsylvanians impacted by COVID-19 economic fallout and $8 million in funding for legal services to address issues related to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency estimates that 67,000 applications were submitted by tenants and 37,000 applications were submitted by landlords for assistance, though we do not yet know the final number of applicants that received assistance. Through mortgage assistance programs, over 3,800 families received assistance.
  • Creating and maintaining an eviction moratorium mapping tool that catalogs the nature of eviction moratoriums in different states across the U.S. This mapping tool was cited in the New York Times and on Time.com, cited by Matthew Desmond’s EvictionLab, and has been viewed over 16,000 times. RHLS worked in consultation with Emily Benfer of Columbia Law School, as well as Columbia Public Health Students Marissa Yochelson Long and Janki Taylor.
  • Publishing a series of infographics for renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure throughout the pandemic. Collectively, these infographics were viewed, downloaded, or engaged with 37,596 times between April and November.
  • Providing funding and support for the Equity-Centered Data Collection for COVID-19 Housing Programs, which was managed by the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) with the National Housing Trust (NHT), who worked together to identify five community organizations led by Black or Brown leaders who were actively responding to COVID-19 created challenges in the community. This work led to the creation of an advocacy tool about key needs for their efforts to respond to COVID-19’s impact on their communities.  
  • Providing funding and support for the Safe Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence project, which was managed by the National Alliance for Safe Housing (NASH) and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), as well as with three domestic violence service providers in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The initiative included:
    • Creating a flexible funding pilot: provided a total of $57,000 in flexible financial assistance to survivors for housing expenses, utility bills, transportation, back debt, children’s needs, physical/mental health expenses, and legal expenses. The community organizations involved in the flexible funding pilot have secured an additional $250,000 from the RK Mellon Foundation to continue this work.
    • Engaging landlords/housing providers to facilitate housing stability for survivors of domestic violence after recovering from crisis through a four-part, monthly, national webinar series, as well as an updated FAQ resource for landlords working with survivors.
    • Supporting the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) in submitting public comments in response to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), which outlined the shelter and housing needs of survivors in Pennsylvania and provided suggestions on how the QAP could be amended to address those needs by prioritizing developing housing for survivors.
  • Working with the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative to provide technical assistance on a program in northern Schuylkill County to remediate and repair the homes of asthma sufferers.
  • Supporting Eviction Mediation Programs throughout Pennsylvania:
    • RHLS worked with the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania to provide information to the public on landlord-tenant mediation and provide small grants and training to six communities (Monroe County, Lancaster County, Lackawanna County, Fayette County, Dauphin County, and Snyder County) to start mediation programs.
  • RHLS continued its work with the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) and Mobility Works to provide research, advice, and technical support to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in the design and planning for a housing mobility program in the greater Pittsburgh area. The goal of this work is to increase the usability of Housing Choice Vouchers for Allegheny County recipients. Though the work began before the onset of the pandemic, the need to ensure that those with housing vouchers can actually use them to obtain affordable housing is critical.

While RHLS is proud of this important work and the outcomes achieved so far, we recognize that there will be much more to do this winter and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania families remain vulnerable to losing their homes due to eviction or foreclosure.

RHLS will continue to do everything we can to bring affordable, safe, and healthy housing to all Pennsylvanians.