Union-Snyder Community Action Agency and Susquehanna Valley Mediation launched a mediation program for landlords and tenants aimed at stabilizing renter households and preventing evictions.

Mediation offers guidance to both landlords and tenants in hashing out owed rent but also other issues like noise complaints and pets. The organizations hope that addressing such situations early will prevent evictions. The two local organizations obtained a $10,000 grant for the effort from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

“While we have not yet held any landlord/tenant mediations, we are officially open for business and started receiving referrals this week,” Susan Jordan, executive director, Susquehanna Valley Mediation, said.

Landlords and tenants can contact the mediation office at 570-374-1718 to ask about the process.

More than 1 in 5 Pennsylvania households were behind on rent payments last month, almost twice the rate as in the first half of September, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That same data shows Pennsylvania just ahead of the national rate and in line with the 1 in 10 national rate of homeowners behind on their mortgages.

A study from the National Council of State Housing Agencies using Census data found that at least 240,000 families will be at risk of being evicted when that moratorium ends. The study also found that in Pennsylvania, 260,000 to 400,000 renter households — 16%-25% of renter households in the state — are estimated to be falling behind on rent. By January, these households will have $697 million to $958 million in back rent, and 240,000 of those households will be so far behind in their rent payments that they face eviction.

That’s compared to less than 100,000 evictions in Pennsylvania in all of 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to the study.  

President Joe Biden extended a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages through at least March 31. In Biden’s American Rescue Plan released before he took office, he calls on Congress to extend the moratoriums and mortgage forbearance applications through Sept. 30 and seeks an additional $25 billion in rental assistance and $5 billion to cover home energy and water costs and arrears for struggling renters.

Last month’s stimulus package authorized by Congress extended the moratorium through month’s end and had authorized $25 billion in rental assistance prior to Biden’s additional request. The moratorium had first been enacted under the CARES Act last March and again last September on request by former President Donald Trump.

“Without the extension, families could find themselves homeless in some of the coldest months of the year while exposing themselves and others to COVID-19,” Kim Amsler, operations director, Community Action Agency, said.

“The moratorium puts a strain on both tenants and landlords, and many are wary that it may just postpone evictions. However, more support is coming to communities through federal and state funding for programs. The extension of the moratorium gives us time to mobilize a response to help tenants stay in their homes while providing both landlords and tenants with financial support,” Amsler said.

For the local mediation program, the Community Action Agency and Susquehanna Valley Mediation are working with North Penn Legal Services, Union and Snyder County Housing Authorities, Transitions of PA, and other agency representatives and landlords within the Local Housing Options Team to educate, design and advertise the program. Mediators and agency staff received training on relevant topics including, but not limited to, tenant and eviction laws, according to both lead groups.

Anyone with questions or seeking mediation can call SVM at 570-374-1718 or email casecoordinator@svmediation.org. Referrals can also be made through www.svmediation.org.

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