City Council extends Eviction Diversion Program through March 2021

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia City Council committee has unanimously passed a brief extension to a bill that requires landlords to participate in a mediation program before locking out tenants.

The Eviction Diversion Program was created in response to COVID-19, but it’s showing promise that it could outlast the pandemic.

Diane Buchanan participated in the program. During the pandemic, she was struggling to pay rent. Her daughter, who’s also her roommate, got laid off. When her refrigerator broke, things really went downhill.

She told her landlord she was withholding rent until it was fixed. In response, she was threatened with eviction.

“It was overwhelming,” she said, “the stress level, because I’m 61 years old.”

The Eviction Diversion Program mediates such disputes. Buchanan got her new refrigerator and began paying rent again — a win-win for landlord and tenant.

“It gives the landlord the money and it also allows the tenant, somebody like myself, to show good faith, that my intentions are honorable, that I’m keeping my promise,” added Buchanan.

The Kenney administration created the program hastily after City Council passed a bill mandating it. Nearly 300 cases have gone through the program since it began in September.

At Wednesday’s City Council hearing, the program’s flaws were examined. There was some disagreement about what percentage of cases resolve amicably.

However, the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Helen Gym, noted that even the most conservative estimate says it prevented most evictions — so far, more than 100.

Some argued one reason the program has been successful is that landlords are required to participate.

“For a program that is less than 2 months old, that got built on the fly, we have shown there is an alternative. We can reduce evictions by a significant amount,” said Gym.

She wanted to extend the landlord requirement through June 2021, but she settled for March, compromising with committee members who didn’t want to extend past the end of this year.

After March 31, 2021, the program will continue, but it’ll be voluntary. The full council will vote on it next month.