Testimony of John Dodds calling for a pause in Philadelphia Sheriff’s Sales before the City Council Law & Government Committee April 22, 2021

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Good Afternoon Chairwoman Parker and members of the committee.  My name is John Dodds, Director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.   We are concerned, as is Council, about putting Sheriff Sales on line, which we fear would open up our housing market to speculators from all over the country.  This step needs to be studied thoroughly before it is implemented.  However, I want to focus briefly on an immediate problem facing homeowners in Philadelphia with regard to the sheriff; the resumption of Sheriff Sales in the city.

PUP has a long history of working to prevent mortgage foreclosures for people who are caught in recessions or other economic issues beyond their control.  We are in another difficult recession right now and PUP is working with other housing and labor groups to prevent foreclosures in the period ahead.

We are concerned about the resumption of sheriff sales that has begun to take place in Philadelphia.  This is particularly concerning as the growth of long-term unemployment caused by the pandemic is reaching historically high levels, as well as the coming availability in Pennsylvania of over $350 million dollars from the Homeowners Assistance Fund, which was included in the American Rescue Plan.

It is unconscionable for families to lose their homes with this massive amount of funding coming to the state to prevent foreclosures.  Pennsylvania is receiving over 3 ½ times as much federal funding as was provided by the Emergency Homeowners Loan Program (EHLP) during the great recession of 2008-10.

We believe that Sheriff’s Sales should be paused to allow homeowners to apply for the new program. There is much precedent for this in Philadelphia.  Back in 1983 sales were halted by President Judge Bradley waiting for the passage of the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance program in Harrisburg. He acted on a request for a stay by Sheriff Joe Sullivan and PUP.  Sheriff’s Sales only began again after the legislature enacted HEMAP in December of 1983.

In 2008, as the housing crisis of the Great Recession unfolded, Sheriff John Green cancelled the Sheriff Sales at the request of community organizations, including PUP, and President Judge Darnell Jones and Judge Annette Rizzo took over and held up sales until the Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program was established, which continues to this day.

In 2010 Sheriff Sales were halted on Christmas Eve by President Judge Pamela Dembe as homeowners waited for HUD to complete guidelines for the new federal EHLP program.  The stay lasted for three months and allowed HUD to complete guidelines in time for families to apply for assistance. Over 3,000 Pennsylvania homes were saved as a result.

We are in the same situation today.  Assistance is coming to protect families, but Sheriff Sales need to be halted, until the aid that is coming is available. We call on Sheriff Rochelle Bilal to pause the Sheriff Sales and join with us to petition the courts to halt sales until the Homeowners Assistance Fund is available to homeowners in Philadelphia.  We believe the courts will be sympathetic, as they have been in past crises. We also ask that City Council pass a resolution calling for sales to be halted pending this program becoming operational. An initial $35 million payment to the state will be made available in June from the Homeowners Assistance Fund. 

There is no reason for families to lose their homes because of this pandemic.  There is no reason to rush to resume Sheriff’s Sales without allowing homeowners to avail themselves of the American Rescue Plan, that was rushed into place by the Biden Administration to protect them. 

We call for action by the Sheriff and the courts to give people time to receive the aid that is being provided.  Let’s protect our homeowners and families. Thank you.

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