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2016 Legislative Agenda

#homesnotblight

1. Help Communities Address Blight, End Homelessness, and Provide Homes within Reach

The US Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) administer programs that provide safe, secure, affordable homes to hundreds of thousands of low income Pennsylvanians.

In addition, cities and towns across the commonwealth rely on HUD and USDA funding to address blighted properties and revitalize communities. Congress must provide adequate funding for HUD and USDA housing and community development programs to end homelessness, repurpose vacant and abandoned properties, and ensure a home within reach of all Pennsylvanians.

The Pennsylvania state budget also provides resources to address homelessness, provide home modifications for people with disabilities, and assist community revitalization efforts. Yet these funds have been reduced dramatically over the past decade. An increased investment in Keystone Communities and the Homeless Assistance Program is necessary to address today’s needs.

 

2. Help Counties Expand the Availability of Affordable Homes

The Optional County Affordable Housing Act, commonly known as Act 137, allows counties to enact housing fees on the recording of deeds and mortgages.

The fees go into county run Affordable Housing Funds to support an array of programs and housing developments. Most counties in the state have Act 137 funds.

There is a limitation on the amount of the fee, however. It can be no more than 100% of the recording fee that was in effect when Act 137 became law, in February 1993. Even if a county has raised its recording fees since then it can not raise the housing fund fee (other than Philadelphia). Removing the February 1993 restriction would allow counties to increase fees up to the current recording fee level and provide more resources for homes within reach of their residents.

 

3. Allow the Neighborhood Assistance Program to Help The Most Vulnerable People

HB 1206 allows a 90% tax credit for contributions to be used for veterans’ housing assistance whether in or outside of impoverished areas.

The appropriation for NAP would be increased by $3 million which would be dedicated to housing for veterans.

 

4. Help Long-Time Residents Gain Clear Title

HB 773 establishes a process whereby long-term residents can gain clear title to the properties they have lived in for more than 10 years when the owner of record has died or disappeared.

This is a “tangled title” and blight prevention strategy.

5. Enable the Establishment of Optional County Demolition or Rehab Funds

SB 486 allows counties to impose a $15 fee on the recording of deeds and mortgages for a county administered demolition fund.

SB 482 allows counties to assess a 10% surcharge on properties purchased under a tax sale law.

6. Enable Local Tax Abatement for Mixed-Use Development.

HB 613 provides for Tax Abatements for Mixed-Used Developments.

Current law covers residential tax abatements and, in a separate statute, commercial; mixed-used developments are not covered. This bill would address that problem and help incentivize investments in older communities.

7. Establish a Code Enforcement Grants Program

HB 648 creates a Codes Enforcement Grants Program, allowing municipalities to apply for funds to either start or expand a codes office.

As currently written, the program would be funded with a surcharge on property owners with code violations. Grants would be capped at $100,000 and municipalities would be required to make a 1:1 match.

8. Ensure Timely Compliance with Code Enforcement

HB 1437 and SB 942 amend the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act which currently requires purchasers of properties with known code violations to bring them into compliance within 18 months.

HB 1437 and SB 942 shorten the timeframe to 12 months and also provide that the time period may be shorter if the municipality is enforcing its property maintenance code.

9. Zombie Titles

Zombie Titles sometimes occur when a homeowner believes s/he has lost a property in foreclosure and leaves, often after a judgment in foreclosure has been entered against him/her, but the bank doesn’t complete the foreclosure process and take title leaving no one to take care of the property.

The situation is referred to “zombie titles” because years after the foreclosure the homeowner who defaulted is called to task for maintenance or past due taxes. The deed, which is still in his name, comes back to haunt him. Pennsylvania must make it clear that foreclosing lenders are responsible for maintaining properties until a new owner takes title.

10. Establish Fast Track Foreclosure for Vacant Properties

Properties that sit vacant during the foreclosure can cause harm to their communities.

A “fast-track” process for foreclosing on vacant properties is good for the neighbors and for the foreclosing lenders. However, care must be taken to make sure the property is truly vacant and abandoned, and that lenders do not force vacancies in order to use the fast-track process. Fast-track foreclosure and zombie titles should be coupled to address the enduring impact of foreclosures on neighborhoods.

Note: All of these bills are subject to amendment as they move through the legislative process. If you have questions or concerns about the Housing Alliance perspective, please contact Cindy Daley, Policy Director at (717) 909-2006 or cindy@housingalliancepa.org. We welcome our member’s input and involvement.

[1]  The 2010 U. S. Census documents 384,145 vacant non-seasonal housing units in Pennsylvania. There is no official count of vacant buildings. In addition to these vacant homes, there are a significant (but uncounted) number of vacant commercial and industrial structures, as well as vacant parcels of land across the state.

[2] Charts of Pennsylvania’s Continuum of Care programs, People’s Emergency Center, Policy Brief.  Copies available upon request: jwillard@pec-cares.org    

[3] 2013-14 Pennsylvania ECYEH State Evaluation Report, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/homeless_children%27s_initiative_projects/7491

[4] “Affordability and Availability of Rental Housing in the Third Federal Reserve District: 2015”, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

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