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Pa. House Democrats seeks funding for statewide housing programs

A Black man speaks at a lectern.
Jaxon White
LNP | LancasterOnline
State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El hosted housing advocates and fellow lawmakers in the state Capitol on Wednesday to call for increased funding toward the state's housing programs.

Lancaster General Hospital physician Bill Fife said he can help treat ailments for most of his patients, whether it be difficulty breathing, a dislocated shoulder or symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

But one thing Fife admitted he can’t treat are the problems stemming from a person who lacks access to housing.

“Some people will say, ‘This is not your job, Dr. Fife.’ But housing crises are the root of many major medical problems,” Fife said Wednesday at a Capitol news conference.

He shared examples from patients he’s treated, like one who was admitted to his hospital seven times in one winter because living outdoors worsened his asthma symptoms, and another who developed diabetes because he couldn’t afford rent or healthy food.

The Pennsylvania Legislature can help those experiencing homelessness, Fife said, by funding initiatives like the Homeless Assistance Program, which would receive a $10 million increase in the House’s current budget proposal for the 2024-25 year.

That program was among a list of housing initiatives that a group of House Democrats cited Wednesday in their renewed calls for additional housing funds.

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Lancaster city state Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El, who has pushed for housing proposals throughout his first term and hosted Wednesday’s press conference, said there are plenty of bills to help “deliver a fair shake” for families.

“We know as a matter of fact, that there are not enough affordable homes,” Smith-Wade-El said, surrounded by lawmakers and advocates in the Capitol Media Center. “Landlords and property management companies are not being held accountable and we are not delivering on the promise of the Civil Rights Movement, which is to say the Fair Housing Act which asks us to affirmatively further fair housing.”

To address those issues, Smith-Wade-El and his colleagues are urging their fellow lawmakers to support the House’s legislation, which also includes $5 million for a right to counsel for renters and a $50 million increase for Whole Home Repairs, a program that offers grants to low-income homeowners to fix problems like leaking roofs and broken furnaces. The latter was funded in the general appropriations budget bill last year, but funds were never spent because the necessary enacting language wasn’t passed.

The current budget bill is expected to change as party leaders continue negotiations ahead of the June 30 deadline. But Smith-Wade-El said Democratic leaders support the policies he and his colleagues discussed Wednesday.

Beth Rementer, spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County, said “ensuring that our neighbors have access to affordable housing remains a top priority for House Democrats” as budget negotiations continue.

Smith-Wade-El said the biggest hurdle in passing any housing bills will likely be leaders in the Republican-led Senate, who have repeatedly criticized the price tag of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed $48.3 billion budget.

A spokesperson for Senate Appropriations Chairman Scott Martin, the Martic Township Republican with significant influence over budget-related bills, said the senator was unavailable for comment.

Smith-Wade-El said he’s also seeking support for other housing-related proposals, like a $100 million increase to the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement fund. He’s also pushing a bill to require more transparency from private companies that buy rental properties, and a Fair Housing Access proposal that would seal eviction records in certain cases.

Read more from our partners LNP | LancasterOnline.