Facing utility shut-offs or foreclosure? Action News Troubleshooters can help

Experts say homeowners at risk of foreclosure also need to act fast.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If you are having trouble paying your utility bill or your mortgage, we have help for you. Because of the pandemic, more than 70,000 homeowners in Pennsylvania are behind on their mortgage, and utility shut-offs are a major concern, too.

"My electric is about to be shut off," said Annette Bryant of Philadelphia's Olney section.

Bryant could be in the dark in 7 days.

"And I have a medical issue. So, there's like, you know, they're putting me under a lot of stress," she said.

"Primarily Black and brown people that live in the neighborhoods, this disproportionately affects us," said Russell Hicks of POWER Interfaith. "It's a lot of anxiety, some panic."

Here is what all utility customers need to know: "Between now and the end of September, PECO and PGW are required to offer extended payment agreement terms to anyone who is behind on their bills," explained Robert Ballenger of Community Legal Services.

So, reach out to your utility company as soon as possible, ideally before you get a 10-day termination notice.

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"PECO and PGW have customer service responsibilities, and they can delay shutting people off in order to fulfill those responsibilities," said Ballenger.

Low-income families should also apply for the utility customer assistance program, which requires those utilities to deliver bills customers can afford.

Right now, tenants can apply for rental assistance but it takes two months or more to get those federal dollars.

Homeowners at risk of foreclosure also need to act fast.

"If you're behind in your mortgage already, it's so important that you reach out to your mortgage company," said Michael Froehlich of Community Legal Services.

Experts say ask for a forbearance, which pushes the pause button on mortgage payments or a loan modification might be another option.

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And if you need an advocate, Philadelphians can call the Save Your Home hotline at 215-334-4663.

"The Save Your Home Philadelphia hotline will provide you with free legal advice or free connection with housing counselors, or referral to a housing counselor in your area to help you through this very difficult time," said Froehlich.

Also, watch for the federal Homeowner Assistance Fund, which will provide millions in grant money to homeowners impacted by COVID-19.

And remember before foreclosure, you must get a notice first.

"When you get this letter, you essentially have 30 days to try to work something out with your mortgage company before a foreclosure can be filed," said Froehlich.
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