MERCER – Renters who are facing eviction because they have fallen behind on rent due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions received a reprieve.
Now, they and their landlords will be getting help, in the form of federal aid.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday extended a federal moratorium on eviction of tenants who have fallen behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
The CDC extended the deadline, which was to have been Wednesday, to June 30.
John Logan, Mercer County fiscal administrator, said he wanted to get the word out because county officials are concerned that tenants may elect to move before actually being evicted because they or their landlord are not aware of the change.
Because funds would be paid directly to the landlord and utility companies, it can cover only tenants who live in their residences. Tenants who have left the rental residences would not be eligible for the assistance.
“My concern is that people who are unaware of the extension could act to their own detriment,” Logan said. “A tenant with rent arrearage might elect to move before being evicted. A landlord with a tenant in arrears might serve an eviction notice.”
The moratorium was put in place last year in response to the pandemic out of concern that the highly contagious virus — which has killed more than 550,000 people in the United States — would spread more rapidly if evicted people moved into tightly packed homeless shelters or shared homes with relatives and friends.
In February, President Joe Biden extended a ban on housing foreclosures to March 31 to help homeowners struggling during the pandemic.
Mercer County is administering a grant to address housing stability. The federal money comes from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was disbursed to the states as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which launched earlier this month.
A total of $847 million has been distributed among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and in turn was allocated to counties based on population. Mercer County’s share is $7,196,849. The grant can be used to pay rent and utilities for qualifying tenants.
Logan said the grant helps both the tenant, who gains a measure of housing stability, and the landlord and utility companies, which gain lost income and keep tenants.
Mercer County residents who have been unemployed or had their incomes reduced due to COVID-19 are eligible to apply for money to help pay rent or utilities.
The county has partnered with the Mercer County Housing Authority, the Community Action Partnership of Mercer County and the Shenango Valley Urban League to make sure applications get to those who need help.
Applicants can visit the county website or any of the partner websites. Organizations will post applications will on their sites today. Tenants and landlords can apply at the ERAP office, 700 Martin Luther King Blvd., Farrell, or the Good Shepherd Center, 10 Water St., Greenville.
Landlords or tenants can apply, but both parties must file applications and payments will be made directly to the landlords or utility companies.
Logan said if a tenant moves, whether of their own accord, or through eviction, it would remove them from eligibility from the program.
“That stability is a really important issue,” Logan said. “We want tenants to stay where they are so the county can evaluate their application.”
Tenants will be required to submit information on their incomes, and landlords will have to submit lease information and report the number of months tenants are behind on rent.
Logan said the program will continue into 2022. County officials will begin sorting through the applications as soon as possible, and expect to review them through April, May and June.
In the meantime, renters and landlords should remain patient. And remain in their homes.
“We want people to know they should look for the opportunity, sit tight, stay in your residence,” Logan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.