Bill Aims to Expand Affordable Housing Statewide

Feb 16, 2015

Following a report last week that affordable housing is getting harder to come by for low and very-low income families, a bill being introduced in Harrisburg would expand a program that improves rental housing in communities.

The Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund was established in 2010 and first funded in 2012 with Marcellus Shale impact fees. It’s only available in Marcellus areas, but the expansion bill would extend the program statewide, without raising taxes or fees.

“The idea is that funds from realty transfer tax as it grows going forward would be redirected into the Housing Trust Fund,” said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

That is the tax paid when a house is bought; it took a hit during the recession and housing slump, but is growing again. The overall goal is to stabilize housing markets throughout the commonwealth, where many lower-wage workers are being priced out of rental units.

“Part of the purpose of the Trust Fund is to balance out the market,” said Hersh, “to increase the supply that’s available and affordable to people who really can’t afford a market rent and help them see the benefits of having a place to live that’s affordable and stable.”

In three rounds of funding, the program has provided about $26 million and has more than 2,900 homes in production, according to Hersh. An expansion would go toward a variety of things – depending on what each community needs.

“It might be rental rehab, it might be new construction, it might be rental assistance, it might be homeowner repair and rehab or it might be site preparation, so it’s locally driven,” said Hersh.

The expansion bill is sponsored by Senators Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) and Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia).

A House version of the bill also has bipartisan backing. Last summer the Senate Urban Affairs Committee voted unanimously to expand the program statewide, and the House had a similar measure introduced, but by the end of the legislative session the bills had not advanced.