The Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistant Fund, PHAF received $350 million from the American Rescue Plan. The Federal Government allocated the money to help families who fell behind on their mortgages and utility bills because of the COVID pandemic. The program is supposed to help those who saw their employment end or could not work because of health risks get back on their feet.
Rather than run the program themselves, PHFA contracted the administration to an outside agency, Innovative Emergency Management, IEM. The Company’s web page does not claim any expertise in housing programs or helping families fight mortgage foreclosures. The web page says IEM, “1200 employees strong, accomplishes this mission by working closely with government agencies and private sector organizations around the world to improve disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation and long-term recovery. We strive to strengthen homeland security and defense, public health, cybersecurity, energy security, and critical infrastructure… Since its inception, IEM has expanded emergency management and disaster recovery to offer a range of services and solutions that also strengthen homeland and national security, improve public health, mitigate threats to our critical infrastructure, and provide equitable, accessible digital citizen services.”
In February of 2022, IEM began taking applications to help PA homeowners pay mortgage arrears and unpaid utilities in February 2022. Under the program’s guidelines, homeowners can receive up to $50,000.
We may never know why IEM failed to run the program as expected. It may be because the Company had no experience helping families save their homes from mortgage foreclosures and utility shut-offs. Or there may be other reasons. What we do know is that IEM failed.
The news service Spotlight PA reported that homeowners seeking help from the program faced waits as long as nine months and poor communication from IEM’s “caseworkers.” Some Pennsylvania citizens who sought help found IEM failures led to utility shut-offs and lower credit scores.
PHAF is on record stating that IEM failed to live up to its promises and get help from people who lost jobs or became ill during the COVID crisis, as the IEM was contracted to do. According to the PHAD, IEM, rather than acknowledging it could not process applications in a timely fashion, denied assistance prematurely in its efforts to keep its contract and make itself look better.
The numbers are stark. Nationally foreclosures are up 22% over last year. In the first quarter of 2023, Pennsylvania had the 4th highest rate of completed foreclosures in the nation. And yet IEM could only use less than 30% of the allocated 350 million dollars. Eighteen thousand families applied and are still waiting for their applications to be processed.
In February of this year, PHFA removed IEM as the contractor. But in some ways, that made the situation worse. IEM was either unable or unwilling to provide PHFA with all the documentation needed to process the 18,000 applications.
PHFA emailed those families, but as of now, only 8,000 have replied. Ten thousand families, many without continual internet service, have not responded to the emails.
John Dodds, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and a conveyor of the Pennsylvania Save our Homes Coalition, says, “It’s like a nightmare for the families who should be getting help but are not. PHFA needs to find a way to expedite the process and stop the foreclosures and utility terminations.”
John will join us on Philadelphia Hall Monitor this Wednesday to explain the problems and what can be done. Tune into Comcast channel 66 and FIOS channel 30 to hear the interview.
Help with Water Bills
The Low-Income Household Water Assitance Program (LIHWAP) administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, has reopened and may provide up to $5000 for Philadelphia Water Department customers towards delinquent water bills.
Applications will be accepted until August 11, 2023.
LIHWAP can help households that are in emergency situation maintain essential water access. Crisis situations include:
- Paste-due water bills
- Water service shutoff
- Threat of water service shutoff in the next 60 days
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