Staff from the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and local nonprofits assist clients with Emergency Rental Assistance Program applications at the Rental & Utility Assistance Community Days event at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
Staff from the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and local nonprofits assist clients with Emergency Rental Assistance Program applications at the Rental & Utility Assistance Community Days event at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The Lancaster County Housing Authority is continuing to fine-tune efforts to make rental and utility assistance accessible for everyone who needs it.

The organization, an affiliate of the county redevelopment authority, has started accepting walk-ins without appointments at the authority offices at 28 Penn Square, Suite 200. Beginning Tuesday, it is offering evening hours, staying open until 6:30 p.m.

Next month, it will offer two more "community days," large-scale events offering in-person assistance in English and Spanish through the whole process: Determining eligibility, applying and uploading supporting documents.

Upcoming in-person assistance days

Local officials are hosting two events in September for Lancaster County residents who need in-person help to apply for rent or utility assistance:

Advance registration is recommended. To register, click the links above.

Help is also available from the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and partner nonprofits. For a full list, click here.

The first two community days took place at Clipper Magazine Stadium on Friday and Saturday, July 23-24. They helped 257 households, Justin Eby, the authorities' executive director, said.

ERAP

The federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, will pay rent and utility bills dating back to March 2020 for eligible households that can demonstrate a financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (For details, visit lancasterhelp.rent.)

The nationwide eviction moratorium has been shielding those families from losing their housing. However, a moratorium is not rent forgiveness. All rent owed is still due, and once the moratorium ends, many tenants could face hefty bills.

Extended multiple times, the moratorium briefly expired July 31, but the CDC reinstated it a few days later for counties experiencing substantial Covid-19 transmission, including Lancaster County. It's now due to end Oct. 3.

The authority saw a significant surge in inquiries during the two days the moratorium lapsed, Eby said. Now that it's back in effect, he said, staff members have more time to contact applicants, which is helpful.

That's because getting full documentation to complete the application process has proved to be a major headache. In mid-July, the vast majority of applications — nearly 70% — were incomplete, lacking all the paperwork needed for approval.

The authority, working with more than a dozen nonprofit partners, has been able to whittle down the backlog somewhat. As of Aug. 9, 1,755 out of 3,227 applications were incomplete, or 54%. The number paid out has risen more than 40%, from 535 to 763.

Click to expand. (Source: Lancaster County Housing Authority)

Stay in touch!

Staffers are trying to reach out to households whose applications need additional information, Eby said, but in many cases they're running into disconnected phone numbers or emails that bounce back.

If you have a pending application, stay in contact, Eby said. Call the county's ERAP helpline at (717) 590-3101, or stop by the authority or one of the partner agencies.

Nationwide, the rollout of the program has been sluggish. Through June, just $6 billion of the $46 billion appropriated for the program had been spent, or 6.5%.

To date, there's been no sign of an uptick evictions in Lancaster County. On the contrary, they have been trending about 50% below normal in Lancaster County, according to county court data. (The moratorium does not apply to evictions unrelated to Covid-19.)

Housing advocates warn, however, that evictions are likely to surge once the moratorium ends.

Tim Stuhldreher