Eviction Prevention Network offers hope to those in Lancaster County
The following is a piece originally published in LNP/Lancaster Online on August 30, 2020
We can only imagine the stress when Maria, her husband, and two children living in Ephrata learned their electricity and water would be shut off because they owed $1,400 on their utility bills and three months back rent.
The family’s working hours had been drastically cut because of COVID-19’s economic fallout and have not yet recovered. The local borough council had enacted a moratorium on utility shut-offs, but that expired July 10.
By August, the family needed to pay 75% of its utility bill to avoid a shut-off. Maria reached out to Ephrata Area Social Services, which she learned was working this summer with at least 23 other families that were also facing utility shut-offs, explained Joy Ashley, executive director of the Ephrata agency.
Thankfully, Ephrata Area Social Services, a member of the newly expanded Eviction Prevention Network, was able to step in immediately and guarantee these families would be able to stay safely in their homes. For now.
On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium expires. This effectively means people across Lancaster County and the state now owe rent or mortgage payments and utility bills that have accrued over the past several months. In September, their housing will be in jeopardy.
Landlords, facing bills and mortgages of their own, may choose to begin eviction proceedings.
Yet the threat of COVID-19 still hovers over our community. Many people are still out of work, or only working part time. Many families need an adult at home as school districts offer virtual learning options and children will be home for the school day.
On top of these immediate realities, data also shows that the pandemic will continue to disproportionately affect people of color in Lancaster County — a continuation of the generations-long legacy of racist housing and resource policies.
The Eviction Prevention Network is one of the shining lights of hope, providing financial assistance and services to those who need them most. A coalition of organizations, funders, local government and utilities, “the EPN has created a structure that maximizes and leverages the wide diversity of funding to support housing needs,” explains Mike McKenna, president of Tabor Community Services.
Instead of many organizations each assisting clients independently, this consortium is focused on maximizing funding and working efficiently. “We are one engine aligned around a common goal,” McKenna said.
When the Eviction Protection Network started in 2019, it was committed to collaborative impact, but COVID-19 was the catalyst for it to scale up and add partners. Now the coalition includes Tabor Community Services, Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, Community Action Partnership, LancCo My Home, The Factory Ministries, ECHOS, Good Samaritan Services, Lancaster-Lebanon Habitat for Humanity, Ephrata Area Social Services, Columbia Life Network, CrossNet Ministries, Solanco Neighborhood Ministries, Real Life Community Services, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, United Way, PPL, City of Lancaster, and Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, as well as dozens of other organizations providing support, information and referrals to the network.
The streams of funding are complex, with different timelines and allocation formulas. The federal CARES Act has pumped more than $95 million in aid to Lancaster County, in addition to dollars from Community Development Block Grants, Housing and Urban Development programs and other funds that total nearly $3 million that has been designated for rent and mortgage relief and housing support.
“Working as a network means we can braid together specific funding in ways that maximize the support for people,” McKenna explained.
Various funding often comes with restrictions or directives. Some dollars, for example, are targeted to provide rent relief to tenants while also supporting landlords.
The Eviction Protection Network recently received a $100,000 boost from the Lancaster Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund. A partnership fund from the Lancaster County Community Foundation and the United Way of Lancaster County, it invites individual donations and has raised $1 million to date. For families caught in colliding pandemic issues, Lancaster Cares has helped to keep lights on, water running and families in their homes. This funding is crucial because the governmental funding has limits on who it can serve.
Safe and affordable housing is a cornerstone of stability for people, especially during a pandemic. Eviction Protection Network organizations work to ensure Lancaster County is adhering to all federal and state regulations around use of funds, while also doing exactly what is best for all in need of assistance.
As a result, the power of partnership is unleashed. The work being done to keep people in their homes is complex, and long-term success will likely require even more funding. It will require a strong infrastructure of support-providing organizations and government entities.
It will require landlords willing to participate and support their tenants through this challenging time. It will require a sharp focus on the specific needs of communities of color. It will require support from the federal government, local philanthropic organizations, businesses and individual donors.
Lancaster County checks all of these boxes and is uniquely positioned to take this challenge head on, especially because Eviction Protection Network leaders are committed to acting as one entity on behalf of our residents.