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Tenants slip through Pa.’s $1B eviction safety net

Plus, Pa.'s largest city is one of America's 'most racially divided.'


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 20, 2021
Eviction trail, segregated city, gun hold, pandemic pileup, 'blind eye,'  conspiracy charges, and a Wawa order from Iowa. It's Wednesday.

Nearly two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on evicting tenants who couldn't pay rent because of the pandemic, an unprecedented amount of relief money — more than $1 billion for Pennsylvania alone — has kept a feared eviction wave at bay.

But Spotlight PA reports that across Pennsylvania's 67 counties, each with its own rental assistance program, the rules and results vary, while a lack of coordination continues to leave some renters in a pinch.

In Dauphin County, which had the state's highest rate of eviction filings before the pandemic, interviews with tenants, local judges, and assistance coordinators revealed that long waits for help and plenty of confusion remain.

THE CONTEXT: With $18 million in rent and utility relief at its disposal, Dauphin County had spent roughly half that amount as of Oct. 15.

Almost 2,900 applications are still somewhere in the pipeline, resulting in months-long waits for tenants, many with eviction hearings looming. Other renters had no idea the help was even available.

Local judges who hear eviction cases are under no obligation to delay proceedings if someone is waiting on the county to process a relief application. And when such hearings arrive before the money, tenants are mostly on the losing end: Landlords win roughly 70% of cases.


"I stand on the shoulders of those LGBTQ-plus individuals who came before me, both those known and unknown."

—Former Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on becoming the first openly transgender four-star officer in any of the nation's uniformed services
» A COMPLETE GUIDE to the Nov. 2 election in Pennsylvania, including how to find your polling place, mail ballot details, who's on the ballot, and more.

» A SPECIAL GUIDE to who's running in the state Supreme Court election and other significant appellate court races.

» A BASIC GUIDE to vetting your local candidates in Pennsylvania's 2021 school board elections, which are receiving renewed attention this year.

If you value these voter resources, please make a tax-deductible contribution to Spotlight PA so we can keep them free and available to all every election season.
» VACCINE MIX: The FDA is expected to approve a mix-and-match approach for booster shots, CNN reports.

» NEW SUIT: The union representing Allegheny County Police Department officers is suing over a vaccine mandate, TribLIVE reports.

» PAYOFFS: Pennsylvania bucked the wave of state-run vaccine lotteries and new research suggests that was the right call, Insider reports.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» THE JUDICIAL VOTE: Join us Thursday, Oct. 21 at noon EST via Zoom for a free breakdown and Q&A on who will be on the ballot this November and how voters will decide the future of Pennsylvania's courts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
If you're looking for a camping spot this fall, check out Ole Bull State Park in Cross Fork. What a beautiful view! Thanks, Paul K.! Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
STARK DIVIDES: Pennsylvania's largest city is one of the most racially segregated in America, an Inquirer analysis confirms. Looking at 2020 census data, the paper finds that Philadelphia remains "one of the most stubbornly divided metropolitan areas" by almost every metric. "We have nothing to be proud of," one urban planning scholar explained.

RED FLAGS: Bipartisan support for "red flag" laws is fading, and momentum gained after a 2018 school shooting in Florida has stalled. In Harrisburg, a proposed red flag law would allow the temporary removal of firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. But Republicans in the majority won't even give it a hearing, Stateline reports.

PILE UP: State officials say there is "light at the end of the tunnel" in their quest to clear a massive backlog of pandemic-era unemployment claims. WESA reports the number of pending claims is down to 91,826 from a 320,000 peak. In March of last year, Spotlight PA reported on the impacts as the system "buckled" under surging demand.

CHILD CARE: The former head of Luzerne County's child welfare agency pleaded guilty last week to endangering children by concealing abuse allegations to clear a backlog of cases, the AP reports. Prosecutors say Joanne Van Saun "turned a blind eye toward the abuse and neglect of children." Sentencing is slated for December.

CONSPIRACY CASE: A former Philadelphia city council staffer has been federally charged with falsifying election results for years at a South Philadelphia ward where she served as a judge of elections, PhillyMag reports. Marie Beren is the third person charged in an election-fraud conspiracy case tied to a former U.S. congressman.
AWARD SHOW: Spotlight PA has won two national investigative journalism prizes for its work on the Mariner East pipeline system and the state's poor oversight of addiction treatment facilities.

BITE SIZE: Pennsylvania has the eighth highest number of fatal animal attacks in the U.S., according to CDC data pulled by Outforia. But the Post-Gazette reports the animal most likely to be deadly here is buzzing in your yard.

YES VOTE: Researchers and professors from across the University of Pittsburgh system have voted in favor of forming a faculty union, five years after launching the drive, The Pitt News reports.  

LONG DRINK: If anyone's game for shipping some of that Wawa pink lemonade all the way to Iowa, a Hawkeye State Reddit user is looking to surprise a Pennsylvania ex-pat for the holidays.

GAME ON: The Philadelphia 76ers season opener is today and Ben Simmons is a no-go. But fans can at least look forward to Kate Scott this year, the first female play-by-play announcer in team history, Billy Penn reports.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
Yesterday's answer: Professionalism

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Neal W., Michelle T., Susan N., Doris T., Irene R., Becky C., Kimberly S., Susan D., Steve D., Jessica K., Don H., Elaine C., Bridget C., Judith D., George S., Dianne K., Tim B., Bill S., John P., Suzanne S., David W., Elizabeth W., Joel S., Craig E., and Myles M.
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