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PA loosens rent relief rules

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania is extending the application deadline and changing the rules of a key rent and mortgage relief program in an effort to boost participation by landlords and keep more people in their homes during the pandemic, the governor announced Tuesday.

The state is using $175 million of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide rental assistance to eligible tenants and mortgage relief to homeowners, but officials say the program has not been working as well as intended. Through the end of September, the program has paid out $9.7 million on behalf of 5,686 renters, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Some landlords have been reluctant to apply because of a $750-per-month cap on payments, state officials say. Many housing units rent for more than $750, but the program did not allow landlords to ask tenants to make up the difference.

That is changing.

Starting Saturday, the program will permit landlords and renters, as well as lenders and delinquent homeowners, to enter into repayment agreements for any money still owed after the monthly benefit is paid, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday. Landlords and lenders will still have the option of forgiving the remaining debt.

Wolf has also extended the application deadline from Sept. 30 to Nov. 4.

“We cannot allow thousands of families to become homeless because of the pandemic,” Wolf said in a news release. “Improving the program and giving people more time to apply will help families to stay in their homes. That will reduce the strain on social services and help landlords to pay their mortgages.”

Separately, the Democratic governor has also called on the Republican-led General Assembly to lift the monthly cap on rental assistance, eliminate a requirement that tenants be at least 30 days behind on rent to be eligible, and eliminate a requirement that tenants applied for unemployment compensation.

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