In a letter to both legislative chambers, Wolf said the state’s Emergency Services Code prevents him from taking action himself.By Royce Jones

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he does not have the legal authority to extend Pennsylvania’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures beyond the end of the month, meaning that renters will no longer be shielded from losing their homes for failing to pay rent during the pandemic.

In a letter to both legislative chambers, Wolf said the state’s Emergency Services Code prevents him from taking action himself. The Democrat called on state lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass legislation to extend the statewide moratorium, which has been in place for more than five months.

“Upon the expiration of the moratorium at the end of the month, notices of eviction and foreclosure will again be able to be sent,” Wolf wrote. “This begins a process that takes time, but that ultimately concludes with our fellow Pennsylvanians being removed from their homes.”

Pennsylvania is using $175 million of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide rental assistance to eligible tenants and mortgage relief to homeowners, but Wolf said the program has not been working as intended. Landlords have been reluctant to participate in the state program, he said, because of a $750-per-month cap on payments. Wolf said lawmakers should raise the cap and relax other requirements in the program to encourage participation.

“The expiration of the moratorium would be less significant if the programs established to assist renters and homeowners … were functioning as intended to provide payment assistance,” Wolf wrote.

As of Aug. 14, nearly 16,000 landlords and renters had applied for about $38 million in assistance, and $465,000 had been distributed to about 1,100 of those applicants, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which is administering the program.

Emails seeking comment were sent to spokespeople for the House and Senate GOP.

Like many Democratic and Republican governors and local officials around the U.S., Wolf imposed a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions to prevent people from losing their homes in the midst of the virus outbreak and widespread joblessness. On July 9, he extended the statewide moratorium until Aug. 31, saying renters needed more breathing room.

Housing advocates have predicted a rush to the courthouse and a wave of evictions once the moratorium expires.

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