From The Field: Pennsylvania Advocates Win Big Victory for State Housing Trust Fund

Housing advocates in Pennsylvania have much to celebrate after securing an ongoing source of revenue for their state housing trust fund. On November 4, Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed legislation to create Act 58, an expansion of the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Act (PHARE), otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund. The new revenue will allow PHARE to support housing efforts in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. This was a long-fought campaign spearheaded by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania (the Housing Alliance), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner. 

Under Act 58, PHARE is to receive a portion of the future growth in realty transfer tax revenues, capped at $25 million. Because Act 58 only allocates future revenue growth and does not increase the tax, the legislation garnered bipartisan support in the Republican controlled General Assembly. Legislators commended PHARE for being well run, locally-driven, accountable and transparent, with the impacts of its investments clearly visible in their communities. The combined vote in both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly was 242 to 1.

PHARE is administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), and it is designed to support a wide range of housing activities. PHARE funding is used to increase housing development and rehabilitation as well as to support homeless services and rent assistance programs. Thirty percent of all PHARE funding must be used to benefit households living below 50% of area median income. PHARE was created by Act 105 in 2010, though no ongoing source of funding was designated at that time.

In 2012 Pennsylvania established Marcellus Shale drilling impact fees as a source of revenue to address various local infrastructure costs associated with the shale drilling boom. A minimum of $5 million of these impact fees are directed to PHARE annually, although only the 37 counties with shale wells are allowed to benefit. Under Act 58 all 67 counties in Pennsylvania will be eligible to receive PHARE funding for housing programs.

Even though the funding to-date has been limited ($34 million over four years), PHARE’s impact has been significant. According to the PHFA, 4,107 households will eventually benefit from PHARE awards made since 2012 through the development of 717 new rental homes, the rehabilitation and repair of 1,207 rental and owner-occupied homes, and the provision of rental or utility assistance to 2,119 households. Estimates are that the $34.6 million of funding to PHARE to date has leveraged an additional $221 million of other investments.

The campaign for a permanent and more flexible revenue source for PHARE involved numerous stakeholders throughout the state. The 175 endorsers of the State Housing Trust Fund campaign included a broad array of religious, disability, mental health, and domestic violence organizations, the housing and homelessness community, and a number of county and local governments. The effort involved extensive lobbying and mobilization of advocates throughout the state to ensure local legislators heard from their constituents

”Working in a divisive and partisan time in history can be demoralizing, but this victory shows us that with the right blend of revenue source, values-driven advocacy, statewide grassroots advocacy and a great program that demonstrates results, it can be done. We found that there is consensus around addressing homelessness, lack of affordable housing and blight on both sides of the aisle and in diverse communities across the state” said Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance. “In these times, being truly bipartisan is a radical act. Turns out, we are radicals and we won!”

For more information about Pennsylvania State Housing Trust Fund campaign efforts, contact Cindy Daley, Policy Director for the Housing Alliance, at [email protected].