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Efforts continue to fix COVID rent relief program

Capitolwire

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf announced a step Tuesday to help more renters and homeowners benefit from a pandemic-created state program while a House bill to fix some problems with the program is in the pipeline.

Wolf’s announcement ad­­dresses one aspect of the COVID Relief Mortgage and Rental Assistance Grant Program.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority, the program’s administrator, will now give landlords and mortgage holders the ability to reach agreements with renters and homeowners to repay the amount of rent and mortgage payments due above the program’s $750 monthly cap. Previously, the program required landlords and mortgage holders to forgive the balance of the payment.

The program has been helping fewer renters and homeowners than intended, said Wolf.

House Bill 2868, awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee, would remove some eligibility barriers that are preventing many individuals in need from receiving some of the $175 million in rent and mortgage assistance available to Pennsylvania under the federal CARES Act, said sponsor House Urban Affairs Majority Committee Chair Susan Helm, R-Dauphin.

HB2868 includes the repayment provision Wolf announced Tuesday.

The bill would also increase the maximum assistance caps by linking them to 130% of the current federal fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit and to a median monthly homeowner’s cost survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as eliminate a requirement that a household must be at least 30 days in arrears for eligibility.

The new standards will better reflect Pennsylvania’s diverse housing markets, Helm said.

Wolf is also calling for the 130% federal fair rent threshold and eliminating the 30-day arrears requirement.

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