Balance in the rental market focus of House Democratic Policy hearing
Landlords, tenants, housing advocates and officials offered remarks
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 16 – The House Democratic Policy Committee convened a hearing Tuesday morning in Philadelphia that brought landlords, tenants and housing officials together to discuss how lawmakers could strike a balance in the rental market.
“I requested this hearing today to help us gather input from all sides of this very important and sometimes controversial issue,” said Rep. Darisha Parker (D-Philadelphia), who hosted the hearing. “We have to be able to support our landlords while also making sure tenants aren’t being taken advantage of.”
Many of the testifiers discussed the economic hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic brought on both landlords and tenants. The Pennsylvania Apartment Association (PAA) represents more than 38,000 units and 49 property management companies in the Philadelphia area alone. The PAA testified that landlords did a great job working with tenants during that time, and the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program was a big help to all parties.
“Many of our members proactively met with residents who were facing financial hardships and began creating payment plan agreements, and once American Rescue Plan funds were made available, urged tenants to apply for these funds,” said Andre Del Valle, Vice President of Government Affairs for the PAA. “These funds helped landlords who had not received payments in over a year and a half, while also assisting tenants by ensuring their arrears were paid off.”
Tuesday’s hearing also touched on property management. One testifier, Derek Jolly, is both a landlord and a tenant. He testified the current property he’s renting has not been upgraded or enhanced in years, but rent continues to increase. He also mentioned when his son fell down icy steps last winter, he immediately informed the property owner, but he has yet to hear back. Jolly said landlords need to be held more accountable.
“I own and manage a duplex of my own and refuse to allow anyone to live in my property below a standard that would be unacceptable to me,” said Jolly. “Who inspects these properties and holds the management companies accountable? Why are they permitted to raise the rent every year but not mandated to make upgrades or improvements?”
The Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia recently completed a survey of more than 6,000 people, discussing issues like rent, evictions, and quality housing. The results showed that 80% of Philadelphia renters who have experienced an eviction have also been denied housing. With Philadelphia ranking fourth in the nation in total evictions, CLS said several initiatives have been put in place to address the eviction issue.
“Right to counsel for tenants, eviction diversion, Renters Access Act, and healthy and habitable housing. Those four initiatives build on the experiences and needs of our clients that we see every day in our representation of them,” said Osarugue Grace Osa-Edoh, Supervising Attorney for CLS. “Evictions continue the cycle of poverty by increasing homelessness, creating family instability and displacement and job loss. The impact of an eviction is not only felt by the family been evicted but by the Community and City.”
Parker, who hosted the hearing at Salus University’s Eye Institute in Philadelphia, said a lot of work needs to be done in Harrisburg to support both landlords and tenants.
“We heard from landlords and property management organizations that say they need more support from us in Harrisburg. But we also heard from tenants and housing advocates that say landlords need to be held more accountable,” said Parker. “I’m looking forward to continuing these important discussions as we work to strike a balance in Pennsylvania’s rental market.”
Full testimony from Monday’s hearing can be found here. Photos will be available here.
Information about this hearing and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.