Dedicated Funding for State Housing Trust Fund Back on the Table - Generocity Philly

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Jan. 7, 2015 12:30 pm

Dedicated Funding for State Housing Trust Fund Back on the Table

Bipartisan struggle to "Fund the Fund" continues as new legislative session begins

Dedicated Funding for State Housing Trust Fund Back on the Table

When the state legislature creates a new program, money is usually put aside to fund it. For the state housing trust fund, that was not the case.

The Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) Fund, which was designed to provide state-level funding for affordable housing and other forms of housing assistance, was created in 2010 with no dedicated funding. Since then, the debate over how to “Fund the Fund,” to use the catchphrase of housing advocates, has raged on.

State Senators Elder Vogel, Republican from Beaver County, and Shirley Kitchen, Democrat from Philadelphia, introduced a bill in spring 2014 that would have taken $25 million from the state realty transfer tax annually and given it to the fund. The state house of representatives introduced a companion bill soon after.

Yet as the last legislative session wound down, neither the house or senate bills came to a vote. Now Vogel and Kitchen plan to re-introduce the bill in the next few weeks, according to the offices of both senators.

Why didn’t it pass the first time? It was simply a matter of running out of time, according to people tracking the bill.

“The thing about lawmakers that we sometimes hate, sometimes love, is that they actually take lawmaking very seriously and don’t rush to action,” said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance, which advocated for the creation of the housing trust fund and has continued to call for its dedicated funding.

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A spokesperson for Vogel put it more bluntly: “Sometimes important [bills] don’t get to come up.”

The bill, once introduced, will only be the latest effort to turn the PHARE Fund into a viable, state-wide tool to meet housing needs.


“Obviously the local and federal money are inadequate, so we think the state has a role to play.”


The first attempt was through Act 13 of 2012, which imposed an impact fee on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, a shale gas deposit that stretches across the western part of the state. The law designated a portion of the revenue generated from the impact fees to the fund, but it required that the money only be used in counties affected by drilling. This restriction limited the fund to mostly rural communities, none of which are in southeastern PA, and halted any attempt to use it to address state-wide housing issues.

Within eligible counties, the fund has doled out $26 million to 104 local housing proposals in 32 counties, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

While the PA Housing Alliance lauds these investments, it wants to see communities across the state benefit from the fund.

Hersh said she is hopeful that the bill will pass this session. One reason, she said, is that Governor-elect Tom Wolf expressed during the campaign that he supported the state housing trust fund.

“There’s tremendous unmet housing needs,” Hersh said, referring to recent data that over 15,000 people experienced homelessness in 2014 in Pennsylvania. “Obviously the local and federal money are inadequate, so we think the state has a role to play.”

Photo via Alex Vuocolo

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