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Program offers rent help for tenants, landlords

Nearly $850 million in federal money has been allocated across Pennsylvania for rent and utilities.

SCRANTON, Pa. — If we're not facing our own financial troubles, many of us at least know someone who is or even more than one.

"I know people have trouble. A lot of people are out of work during the pandemic," Ryan Perry said.

"I have five or so personal friends that have challenges finding rentals at the moment," Bruce Levine said.

Mark Fedorov manages Lofts at the Mill in Scranton.

"I hate evicting people," Fedorov said. "I've been a landlord since the early '90s, and I've had four evictions."

Fedorov said COVID-19 has been tough for a few of his renters.

"When the coronavirus first came in at the end of March, we probably lost around five to seven percent of our tenants," he said.

In one recent case, in early February, Federov says his hands were tied.

"The local nonprofit was waiting for that tenant to come in and fill out the final amount of paperwork. I could not do anything," he added.

Now, across Pennsylvania's 67 counties, not only tenants but landlords can apply for assistance on behalf of tenants.

"Being able to at least start the process and put them in contact with the right people, without dealing with the court system, that makes me feel better," said Federov.

"After the year that we have all had, there are a lot of people that are behind," said Erin James.

James, with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, says she wants to get the word out on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which started last month.

"The goal here is to get people caught up so that they don't end up homeless and so that landlords don't have to essentially shut down their businesses," James said.

Officials say it's equally important to keep small landlords afloat.

"I used to be a small landlord; that's how I started,” Federov said. "For small landlords, the issue is they will be renting out a one-family house or maybe a duplex. If they have a duplex and one of their tenants doesn't have the rent to pay, half their income is gone."

"They're essentially small businesses. We're worried that small businesses who are in the rental industry might disappear," James added.

Different counties have different ways of processing ERAP applications, but basically, James says if you go to the DHS online form, it will point you in the right direction. 

Officials say anyone who thinks they qualify should apply quickly, as it's first-come, first-serve.

There are several criteria for eligibility.

"One is that you are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. second, is that you have been affected by the pandemic, either directly or indirectly," James said. "Your income should be no higher than 80 percent of the median income in the area where you live."

For example, in Lackawanna County, a one-person household should make no more than just over $40,000.

So far, officials say they've seen more tenants than landlords applying for the program but that both parties can utilize it.

ERAP may cover utilities as well and in some counties internet too. 

Officials say the program only does not cover phone bills.