Given the widespread economic havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic, you might expect local nonprofits that offer financial counseling to be thronged with new clients.
(RELATED: Covid-19 financial tips)
So far, that hasn't happened. But there's tremendous concern about the pressure the crisis is putting on vulnerable households.
In particular, advocates fear there will be an explosion of demand for help once the moratorium on evictions ends, Todd Capitao of Tabor Community Services said.
Across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has brought economies screeching to a halt. In Lancaster County, nearly 45,000 residents have filed for unemployment since March 1, pushing the unemployment rate here to 19%. By comparison, its highest rate during the Great Recession was 8.4%. Nationwide, Covid-19 job losses amount to about 26 million.
Capitao is director of Tabor's Financial Empowerment Center. He said Tabor has begun cross-training other members of its staff in eviction and foreclosure prevention, in anticipation of the expected surge.
In collaboration with the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), Tabor has released "Navigating Covid-19," a personal finance handbook for those affected by the crisis. Updated regularly, it's available online in PDF format in English and Spanish.
Tabor will hold a free livestreamed discussion and Q&A on "Navigating Covid-19," beginning at 12 noon on Wednesday, April 29. It plans to post the video the following day.
Rent still due
A worrisome number of people, Capitao said, seem to think the eviction moratorium means they don't have to pay their rent. That's categorically not true. (Strictly speaking, Pennsylvania is under two eviction moratoriums, state and federal, with different provisions.)
For the time being, your landlord can't evict you, but your rent is still due, as are any late fees and penalties you incur under your lease if you get behind.
Tenants who fail to pay could quickly fall thousands of dollars in arrears. The temporary ban on evictions now offers no protection against being evicted in the future, Capitao warned.
As one would expect, landlord/tenant filings in county court have been "down considerably" during the moratorium, with just 19 recorded in the 30 days ending April 24, deputy court administrator Russell Glass said.
"We do anticipate a substantial increase" once Pennsylvania's Declaration of Judicial Emergency is lifted and courts open up again, he said in an email.
On Friday, Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth issued an order to gradually reopen local courts and district justices' offices. It will allow them to conduct business via video conferencing, subject to state and federal Covid-19 guidelines and limitations.
A long road back
Like Capitao, Kristen Vieldhouse, director of crisis housing at The Factory Ministries, said her team is bracing for a surge in evictions after the moratorium.
Many families were barely making ends meet before the crisis, said Vieldhouse said.
"I'm hopeful that once businesses start reopening, a lot of people will be able to get jobs back," she said.
But she worries that those whom the crisis are pushing into debt face a long, difficult road back to economic health.
Capitao and Vieldhouse said the financial counseling they provide now is much the same as it was before the crisis. They offer tips on budgeting and prioritizing, cutting expenses and dealing effectively with landlords and other creditors.
Tabor is holding sessions with clients by phone and Zoom. Appointments are actually down a bit compared with before the crisis: Not everyone has the technology for a remote meeting, Capitao said, and some would rather wait until face-to-face meetings are possible again.
Like other organizations, the nonprofits are being creative and finding new ways to provide the services their clients rely on.
"We're trying to keep it as business-as-usual as possible in this unusual time," Capitao said.