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Bipartisan push for housing fund

HARRISBURG – Momentum is building to expand the reach of a state program that finances housing projects in the Marcellus Shale drilling region to cover the entire state.

That became evident when the House and Senate committees overseeing urban issues unanimously approved companion bills last week to provide a new revenue source for the state Housing Trust Fund through an earmark of the state realty transfer tax.

Pennsylvania established the trust fund in 2010 to provide affordable housing to low-income individuals, help the elderly stay in their homes and fight neighborhood blight. However, the fund has lacked the funding to fully meet those goals.

Since 2012, a portion of the impact fees paid annually by natural gas drillers has been used by the trust fund to finance housing projects in counties with active Marcellus wells.

In Northeast Pennsylvania, the fund last year distributed $630,000 for senior housing in Forest City, $100,000 for rental assistance in Sullivan County, $170,000 for transitional housing in Tunkhannock and more than $1.2 million for housing projects in Towanda and Wyalusing using impact fee revenue, for example.

The legislation would direct a portion of anticipated growth in revenue from the state realty transfer tax on home sales to the fund. The revenue transfer would be capped at $25 million annually.

In related news, Taking a swing at fixing the affordable housing shortage in the Marcellus.

Based on current growth in the real estate market, this revenue transfer should reach the $25 million ceiling in 2019, according to the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, an advocacy group. That would generate sufficient revenue to support projects in all 67 counties.

“I think it makes sense to people that the money come out of the residential real estate market to go back into the residential real estate market,” said HAP executive director Liz Hersh.

The state trust fund is also slated to potentially receive $7 million next year for the first time from the National Housing Trust Fund.

The committee votes are the first step in the bill-passing process, but the depth of support is indicated by the names of sponsors representing both parties and urban and rural areas, said Ms. Hersh. The housing projects in the shale region are considered a success and lawmakers want other areas to benefit too, she said.

Pennsylvania has an urgent need for affordable housing which the fund can address, said Sen. Elder Vogel, R-47, Rochester, the Senate bill sponsor.

Because the current revenue source comes from the impact fee, the fund is only active in the 37 counties with Marcellus wells, he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf has not taken a position on the specific legislation, but is committed to finding ways to increase access to affordable housing, said spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

 

This article was written by Robert Swift, from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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