A proposal for a new program offering counseling to Lehigh County renters is being met with resistance

Written by on September 8, 2021

A proposal for a new program offering counseling to Lehigh County renters is being met with resistance

by Hayden Mitman

September 8, 2021

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

A recent proposal from Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley would provide free legal counsel to renters who are behind on payments. It could be especially timely as the Supreme Court has recently removed pandemic-era protections from evictions but not everyone is on board. 

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More than half of all renters throughout the region may struggle to pay rent or bills, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Kadeem Morris, an attorney for Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services, said a right-to-counsel program would save taxpayers money. 

“If you prevent displacement, then you can prevent homelessness. And empowerment of information is one of the easiest ways to do that,” he said.

The Lehigh County proposal would mirror Philadelphia’s program

Dave Harrington, a Lehigh County commissioner, said he believes the $1 million proposal could help renters and landlords negotiate. 

“I think there’s going to be a lot of need because, even if the stock market has recovered, economically, a lot of folks haven’t,” Harrington said. 

There’s about $14 million remaining in county funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to help renters impacted by COVID-19. 

Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong, who is entrusted with managing those funds, doesn’t want to use that money for a right-to-counsel program. 

“We do have so many things right now, in place, and so many agencies that are out there to help these people, that I don’t see, at this point, going another step,” he said.  

Instead, he said, the biggest issue with getting funding to those in need is a paperwork backlog. 

He plans to hire five temporary workers to handle it. 

Armstrong has yet to formally turn down the use of emergency funds to create the right to counsel program. 

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