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26 Aug 2022

Keystone First provides free legal services to offset evictions for members with disabilities 

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August 26, 2022 Category: Local Posted by:

Keystone First, the largest Medicaid plan in southeastern Pennsylvania, has teamed with a local non-profit to provide legal services at no cost to help Keystone First Medicaid members with disabilities or chronic health conditions mitigate the risk of eviction and address health-harming housing conditions. 

The Housing Stability Initiative, a collaboration between Keystone First and the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, was formally launched last summer prior to the expiration of the national eviction moratorium in August. The Housing Stability Initiative aims to provide members with legal representation if they have a case that goes to court.

It also helps those at risk of eviction apply for available rental assistance and works with landlords to remediate harmful living conditions for members who reside in substandard housing conditions.

Currently, Keystone First members who rent in Philadelphia and Delaware counties — and whom the health plan identifies as being at risk of eviction — are eligible. What’s more, members in those counties not at risk for eviction, but who reside in poor housing conditions are also eligible. About 1 in 14 renters faces eviction annually in Philadelphia, one of the poorest big cities in America.

Kathleen Mullin, who leads housing initiatives for Keystone First, said eviction can be a traumatic event for vulnerable households, especially as millions of families are still recovering from the pandemic’s economic fallout.  

“For Medicaid managed care organizations, these medical-legal partnerships can have a positive impact on health outcomes by helping to stabilize housing for those living in poverty,” she said. “We can integrate legal services with care management support to stave off the harmful effects caused by sub-standard housing conditions and evictions.” 

Keystone First care managers, or other member-facing staff, can refer eligible Keystone First Medicaid members to the program if engagement with that member determines that their housing situation meets program criteria, including lead paint or lead pipes, pest infestation, or leaky roofs. 

Theresa Brabson, legal director for the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, said the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the nation’s affordable housing crisis and increased housing insecurity for low-income renters, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“It is critical that we recognize and address housing insecurity as a social determinant of health. For renters who have significant chronic health conditions or a disability, housing instability poses a risk to their physical and mental health,” she said. “Through this innovative, interdisciplinary partnership, we are better able to identify tenants in need of legal assistance and provide an immediate, community-based access point for justice.”

When eviction cannot be avoided, Brabson said her organization negotiates with the landlords on the tenant’s behalf to reach a settlement. 

“Keeping people in a stable home is a good strategy to keep them out of hospital emergency rooms, shelters, and to promote better overall health outcomes,” Brabson said. 

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