Rental assistance program gets a boost

A rental assistance program aimed at helping Philadelphians stay in their homes has been expanded, and officials hope the change will allow more tenants and landlords to sign up.

The amount of aid available has been bumped up to $1,500 a month. The previous rate, which was capped at $750, has drawn scrutiny from Gov. Tom Wolf, who has urged legislators in Harrisburg to alter the program to accommodate pricer parts of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia was able to increase the payouts by utilizing federal CARES Act money that went directly to the city to supplement the state program, officials said.

Anyone who has applied for the second phase of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will receive the improved benefits automatically. The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation is still accepting applications through Sept. 30.

“With many tenants unable to pay rent, and a federal eviction moratorium in place, it is essential that we help our renters and their landlords to weather the storm,” PHDC executive Greg Heller said in a statement.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order allows tenants struggling to pay their rent to fill out a form to delay eviction through the end of the year.

To be eligible for the rental assistance program, tenants must have lost more than 30% of their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also cannot have made more than the median income prior to March 1.

Payments are made directly to landlords, who must agree to not evict a renter for at least 60 days after the assistance stops.

Go to phlrentassist.org for more information.

City health officials reported 88 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and three additional fatalities, raising Philadelphia’s death toll to 1,774 since the start of the pandemic.

For the week that ended Sept. 12, city-employed contact tracers were able to interview 65% of known COVID-19 cases. About 20% did not respond to calls; 7% were not called because test results were too delayed; 6% had no listed phone number; and 3% refused.

Tracers reached nearly three-quarters of the provided contact and got them to agree to self-quarantine, according to the health department.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration said it will be shutting off streets near the South Philadelphia sports complex this Sunday to prevent people from tailgating for the Eagles home opener.

Officials said parts of 10th Street, 11th Street, Pattison Avenue and Darien Street will be closed to traffic from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Police and city employees will also be increasing patrols at FDR Park, another popular tailgating spot.

“There are still many ways to enjoy the game safely, and we encourage fans to watch at home with family,” Kenney said in a statement.

The Eagles take on the Los Angeles Rams at 1 p.m.

Comcast on Thursday announced that 26 recreation centers in Philadelphia will be getting updated, high-capacity wifi to facilitate students who are taking remote classes.

The facilities have been serving as Access Centers where parents can leave their children to learn online in a supervised setting.

“These spaces will fill a gap for families experiencing challenges with housing, or other issues, or for anyone who needs a place to get online and access the resources they need,” Jim Samaha, a regional Comcast executive, said in a statement.

More than 1,000 such sites are being set up by the company across the country, according to a news release. Comcast said it plans to keep the arrangement in place beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the city opened 31 Access Centers, and 46 more locations are set to begin operating Monday.

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