Steady rise in eviction filings shows stresses in the Pittsburgh-area rental market

Sade Swan sits next to the thermostat in the Homewood North duplex she has rented since August 2020. Her landlord told her to move out and failed to fix the furnace, but has not started the legal eviction process. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Landlords still aren’t filing to evict at the rates they did prior to COVID-19, but tenants facing displacement are finding few options and relief programs won’t last forever.

by Rich Lord, PublicSource

Eviction filings in Allegheny County rose in November and December after the expiration of pandemic-driven curbs, bringing 2021’s total number of landlord-tenant cases to more than 5,800.

The increase in cases, though, has not been as steep as that expected by some observers of the rental housing market.

“It’s weird that we are not seeing a tidal wave, as I expected, since the moratorium dropped,” said attorney Brad Sommer, who represents landlords in eviction cases. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restrictions on evictions expired Oct. 31. “I was very surprised when this was lifted and I’m not being inundated.”

The 764 landlord-tenant cases filed in December fall well below pre-COVID norms of around 1,100 eviction filings per month. And many cases are resolved without the tenant’s ejection. But they occur amid a pandemic and at a time when tenants, local officials and even a prominent banker bemoan the scarcity of affordable housing.

“There’s long waiting lists,” said Richard Wierzbowski, an East Liberty retiree who has been apartment hunting since June, and whose landlord filed to evict him in December. “Some are not even taking applications anymore. And as far as market rate, it’s way beyond what my monthly income is.”

Pandemic-era measures including rental relief and a landlord-tenant mediation program appear to have reduced the flow of eviction cases. Funding for rent relief, though, is limited. 

One of the county’s big landlords fears that eviction cases may yet surge. “The families living with us are still suffering the results of COVID,” said Brandywine Agency President John Katz, “and the economic consequences of COVID are going to extend for years.”

Wierzbowski, 73, has a Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8. He said he has called landlords directly and worked through agencies but is told at every turn that there’s nothing available for voucher holders. “I’m under a lot of stress, even trying to find an apartment,” he said.

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