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Closing the affordable housing gap in PA

Posted 5/8/24

Households at all income levels are impacted by Pennsylvania’s housing crisis. For affordable housing—where the resident pays no more than 30 percent of their income on housing …

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Closing the affordable housing gap in PA


Households at all income levels are impacted by Pennsylvania’s housing crisis. For affordable housing—where the resident pays no more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs—the need is significant. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the commonwealth currently lacks more than 265,000 housing units to meet demand for low-income families earning less than $30,000. 

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) recently issued a comprehensive housing study. It reports that while housing costs are declining for homeowners, they are increasing for renters. The study estimates that 48 percent of Pennsylvania renter households are cost-burdened, spending more than the benchmark 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Households spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing are considered severely cost-burdened.

When a household is spending this much on housing, family members are unable to pay for other critical needs, such as food, utilities, transportation, health care and child care. Overall, the median gross rent in Pennsylvania has increased by 8 percent since 2010. 

The NeighborWorks Association of Pennsylvania (NWAP), a statewide network of NeighborWorks America-chartered organizations dedicated to creating equitable housing options, and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, a statewide housing organization and membership network, understand this lack of housing supply across nearly all income levels in the commonwealth. 

“Decades of underbuilding have strangled Pennsylvania’s housing supply, and now threaten serious economic, health and educational consequences,” said Aaron Zappia, director of government affairs at the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. “Affordable and accessible housing is the pathway to upward mobility for all households and the first stability for those experiencing housing insecurity.” 

This gap between affordable housing supply and demand will only continue to grow unless there is a significant and sustained investment of funding from the commonwealth, and policies are implemented to streamline land use processes. The latter could include inconsistent and restrictive zoning laws and would alleviate bureaucratic hurdles such as lengthy review and building-permit processes that delay progress and increase costs for developers at the local, state and federal levels. Without these changes, households at all income levels will continue to be impacted. 

Investment by the commonwealth

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget, which includes an $80 million investment in housing programs, is an encouraging start to combating this crisis. The budget includes a proposal to increase the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) program to $100 million by 2027, using increases of $10 million per year. PHARE is currently capped at $60 million. 

PHARE provides grants to local municipalities to build affordable housing, provide rental assistance, pay for home repair and support areas with the greatest need. It is administered through PHFA.

“This fund is the most significant source of funding for affordable housing offered by the commonwealth,” said Zappia. “While seldom the main funding source for multifamily affordable development, PHARE closes critical cost gaps for developers allowing developments to move forward sooner.” 

The governor’s budget also includes a $50 million investment in the Whole Home Repairs Program. The early success of Pennsylvania’s program led Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) to introduce the Whole-Home Repair Act in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. This national bill would expand upon the commonwealth’s program and support homeowners across the country with critical home repairs. 

Additionally, a $10 million investment in the Homeless Assistance Program, $5 million for legal representation in eviction proceedings, and $5 million for local governments for rapid response to emergency housing situations are included in the proposed budget. 

Gov. Shapiro’s proposed $80 million for housing programs including PHARE, Whole Home Repairs, Homeless Assistance and other programs is an encouraging step in the right direction toward expanding housing access and supporting economic growth and prosperity for families throughout the commonwealth. This is just the beginning. NWAP member organizations and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania are committed to working collaboratively with elected officials to meet this growing need for housing. Together, we can do more to support affordable housing access across the commonwealth. 

NeighborWorks Association of Pennsylvania (NWAP) is a membership-based statewide network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to creating equitable housing options and improving quality of life across the commonwealth. NWAP groups include NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania in Scranton, PA.

The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania is a statewide coalition working to provide leadership and a common voice for policies, practices and resources to ensure that all Pennsylvanians, especially those with low incomes, have access to safe, decent and affordable homes. 

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