Legislation could affect local public housing

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill expanding PHARE Nov. 4.

Recent legislation passed by Gov. Tom Wolf could have an impact on local public housing.

On Nov. 4, Wolf signed an expansion of the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act, which provides funds to support affordable housing.

The expansion of the act, abbreviated as PHARE, would increase the Housing Trust Fund’s revenue to include money from transfer taxes, allowing all 67 counties of the state access to that money, Joe Ostrander a contractor for the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania told The Temple News.

Previously, PHARE only received money from Marcellus Shale drilling impact fees and 37 counties had access, Ostrander added.

According to the press release, $34 million in PHARE funds have helped more than 4,000 families, as well as veterans, the elderly and disabled. PHARE seeks to provide resources like home rehabilitation or repairing homes, rental assistance and development.

Nora Lichtash, an alumna and executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, said North Philadelphia properties have increased in value over the last 15 years.

“In 2000, you used to be able to buy a property for $40,000,” Lichtash said. “That property would be $120,000 today.”

She added property values have seen a 200 percent increase from 2000 to 2012. Much of this is due to newly built and renovated student housing in the neighborhood.

“Properties that are newly constructed sell for more,” she said. “[Community members] have been under a lot of pressure to afford to stay in their homes.”

The Women’s Community Revitalization Project is a women-led, community-based development organization. It was “deeply involved to campaign to pass PHARE,” Lichtash said.

Members voiced their concerns through community organizing, phone calls to legislators in Harrisburg as well as to constituents, petitions and educating community members about affordable housing.

“There is a tremendous need for affordable housing,” Lichtash said. “The fact that there will be more resources … is very important.”

Both additional resources and funding make developing and renovating businesses easier.

Lichtash added more choices in affordable housing may also increase the opportunity for students and recent graduates to live in North Philadelphia, while maintaining the current community.

“[New resources] ensure that folks are not pushed out or displaced and I think that will make a real difference,” she said.

Kwesi Daniels, a graduate student in the department of geography and urban studies, said the development shouldn’t go toward student housing.

“You want to make sure the allocations are going toward the [intended] populations,” he said. “It can open up opportunity for areas that are high-need who wouldn’t usually  have access to the funding.”

The funding will not come for another year-and-a-half, said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

“This is one step there and other steps that need to be taken,” Lichtash said. “Our city and our neighborhood isn’t strong unless we have folks who have choice.”

Lian Parsons can be reached at lian.parsons@temple.edu or Twitter @Lian_Parsons.

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