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Legislation Addresses Affordable Housing Needs

As the housing market continues to rebound after the 2008 recession, some Pennsylvanian residents are still in need of affordable housing.

Currently in Pennsylvania there is a shortage of about 268,000 affordable housing units, according to Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

“With increased demand and shrinking production, prices have gone up, so even the supply that is out there and available, the prices are higher so that lower wage workers with disabilities, veterans, single parent families, seniors on social security, are very much priced out of the market,” said Hersh.

To meet this demand the Housing Alliance is working with state legislators to get bills passed.

State Senators Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) and Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia) introduced Senate Bill 1380 to expand the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) without raising taxes. PHARE was established in 2010 to create affordable housing through federal and private dollars.

“As it stands right now, the state’s realty transfer tax doesn’t benefit the housing market at all. And so our position basically is, take a small chunk of the money that’s coming out of the housing market, and put it back into growing the housing market, and rebalancing so that the supply is adequate to meet the demand,” said Hersh.

The bill to reallocate the transfer tax to PHARE unanimously passed the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee and now awaits a vote in Appropriations.

The Housing Alliance is also working to expand the Neighborhood Assistance Program and establish a $10 million affordable housing credit through House Bill 2241 which has 49 co-sponsors. The bill is currently in the House Finance Committee.

“I think that rural communities, suburban communities, cities, are all experiencing tremendous blight and vacancy that they would like to be able to tackle. So I think that the legislators have been united around trying to find win-win solutions to these problems,” said Hersh.

Since PHARE was established $5 million was set aside each year for the program. Now with the third round of funding the program has about $17 million to build 1,700 new units based off of local need. According to Hersh it is will yield about 10 times its economic investment, but it is only available where there is fracking, because a sum of the money for PHARE comes from the impact fee on Marcellus Shale.

Hersh is confident that the housing market is turning around, and that by working together neighborhoods across Pennsylvania can be restored.

“(Our efforts) can leverage other types of investment and you start to see neighborhoods revitalized, you start to see blighted properties be repurposed, so together with land banking, with good code enforcement, with partnerships with the federal government and the private sector, we start to see healthier neighborhoods, less homelessness, less blight and less vacant property, and that’s what we want,” said Hersh.

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014. The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science. Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.