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Unemployment councils at work.

Last spring, Pennsylvania legislators voted to add $26 million to a fund that provides low-interest loans to people who are behind on their mortgage payments through no fault of their own. The program was established by the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Act of 1983, passed as a result of pressure by state labor unions and religious groups. Another organization behind the bill, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP), estimates that the legislation has saved 7,000 families from eviction.

PUP has been fighting evictions for years, when necessary taking direct action such as inhibiting sheriff's deputies from seizing individual homes. But according to project organizer Horace Small, "We knew we couldn't keep going as we were, fighting one eviction at a time." The 1983 law was a key step toward providing systematic help to economically distressed homeowners.

Supported in large part by grants from labor unions and religious groups, PUP has approximately 400 members, 50 active volunteers and a small staff of paid workers. Its other projects include pressuring hospitals to admit poor people, lobbying the Philadelphia Gas Commission to adopt a plan by which people behind on their bills could pay them gradually rather than having their service cut off and campaigning for the extension of state unemployment benefits. In 1981 it helped push a bill through the City Council requiring runaway companies to notify their workers before they close.

Inspired by PUP's example, people have formed unemployment councils in more than thirty cities, including Gary, Indiana, and Birmingham, Alabama. The council in Erie County, Pennsylvania, registered voters and turned them out for the November elections. In Asbury Park, New Jersey, the Shore Committee for the Jobless has focused on the problems of the homeless, a major issue in the area.

Information about the Philadelphia Unemployment Project is available from 116 South Seventh Street, Suite 610, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

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Title Annotation:Philadelphia Unemployment Project fights home evictions
Author:Dixler, Elsa
Publication:The Nation
Date:Mar 23, 1985
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