Advocacy Corner, Issue 6 of 2021, April 2021
From the Desk of Brian Fuss
Policy & Program Director
Thank you, friends, for reading this month’s advocacy corner. March was another busy month and April is looking to be just as active.
Housing Alliance’s 2021-2022 Policy and Legislative Priorities
This plan outlines the Housing Alliance’s immediate and future goals related to federal and state public policy.
Before the end of June, we want to accomplish these immediate goals:
- Allocate $10 million for the Pennsylvania State Housing Tax Credit
- Assist with the creation of a new rental assistance program from the American Rescue Plan funds
- Ensure two blight bills pass both chambers in the General Assembly to become law
After the General Assembly summer break, the Housing Alliance and its partners will work with the General Assembly to:
- Create and secure funding for an ongoing statewide emergency rental assistance program beyond COVID
- Increase funding for PHARE (the state housing trust fund)
- Secure adequate funding for Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP)
- Align the prevailing state wage with federal exemptions
- Provide local governments and communities with additional tools to reduce regulatory barriers to prevent and remediate blight
In addition to working with the General Assembly on our legislation goals, the Housing Alliance will work with partners, including regulatory bodies, throughout 2021 to:
- Establish a supportive housing service benefit to Medicaid
- Prioritize home repair solutions to support homeowners to remain in their homes and age-in-place
Housing Alliance Policy Council
On March 18, 2021, the Housing Alliance convened 17 advocates from across the Commonwealth for our inaugural Policy Council meeting. In the first meeting we discussed the Housing Alliance’s policy and legislative agendas and gauged interest from the advocates in helping us accomplish these goals. We are looking forward to engaging with these advocates on the Policy Council in April.
Capitol Hill Day
The Civic Engagement Team (Keena Minifield, Jen Thomas, Gale Schwartz, and myself) were busy scheduling 15 meetings with our national representatives in conjunction with the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Virtual Housing Forum. I must admit that this was exciting (and exhausting). In addition to organizing a record number of legislator visits, the team held planning sessions and advocacy practice sessions to ensure everyone was comfortable telling their story on the impact federal funds have in each particular legislator’s district.
Our staff worked with over 60 advocates from almost every district in the Commonwealth to hone the solutions-focused message that federal funds for affordable housing, homeless prevention services, and community development reduces housing instability. Our message to the advocates was simple: Focus on the solutions you know are working in your communities.
Our network met with four House Representatives, one Senator, and ten staffers to discuss the importance of funding and enacting legislation to stop evictions and improve the housing tax credit. The advocates focused on delivering solutions-driven messages of how federal funds and programs helped them to better serve their communities and what more funding would accomplish. Our federal elected officials said to continue advocating and keep the conversation going. Thank you to all who participated in the April 1, 2021 Capitol Hill Day.
Civic Engagement Initiative
In addition to organizing the Capitol Hill Days, the Civic Engagement Team engaged over 30 community partners to participate in the Listen & Act for Housing & Health project. As of April 1st, 17 community partners signed on as official partners of this project. Listen & Act is a civic engagement project in partnership with PA Health Access Network’s BeHeard, BeHealthy initiative. The team is working with partners in rural and suburban communities to hear about barriers faced by people who are or have experienced housing instability. Then we will work with people with lived experience to address these barriers.
I look forward to sharing more updates in our July newsletter and throughout the summer as we conduct our listening tour of communities.
Since the American Rescue Plan became law in March, our national partners celebrate, as it seems as each day brings news about housing being essential to our national economic health and recovery. On March 31, 2021, in Pittsburgh, President Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure package. One part of the package increases funds to build and maintain affordable housing.
The representatives in the 117th Congress have introduced almost 500 bills on various housing initiatives: improving public housing, developing affordable housing, increasing housing vouchers, and increasing funding for all HUD programs. As budget and spending negotiations continue through April, the Housing Alliance will urge Congress to provide:
- $3.3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (HAG) programs to fund a variety of services to help people experiencing homelessness and at risk of homelessness;
- $70 billion to preserve and rehabilitate our nation’s public housing infrastructure, make energy-efficient upgrades, and guarantee funding for public housing in the future;
- $40 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes; and
- $185 million to fund the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, known as NeighborWorks America, a congressionally chartered nonprofit that provides financial support, technical assistance, leadership development, and community-based development training.
The Housing Alliance is also eagerly waiting for the reintroduction of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (introduced as. S.1703 and H.R.3077 in 2019) and the Eviction Crisis Act (introduced as S. 3030 in 2019). The hope is these funds and bills will be authorized and signed into law before the CDC Eviction Moratorium expires on June 30, 2021.
Closer to the Commonwealth, Congressman Evans (D-PA-3) announced on March 31, 2021 a $63 billion “Housing is Essential Plan.” As the introduction states, “The Congressman’s proposal would develop affordable housing, stabilize communities, and sustain homeownership by increasing funding for key federal housing programs, expanding housing tax credits, and providing federal assistance for significant repairs on owner-occupied homes.”
PA General Assembly Updates
On March 31, 2021, the PA Senate Democrats held a hearing on the Pennsylvania housing crisis. A diverse group of people gave testimony with the common theme that affordable, safe, and decent housing is scarce in all parts of the Commonwealth. Senators Saval (D-Philadelphia), Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery), and Santarsiero (D-Bucks) introduced SB 466, the Housing Security Act.
In our effort to fight blight we are following, HB 581, which provides municipalities options for property tax abatements and exemptions to support low-income households and to expand affordable housing. Its first consideration in the House was on March 22nd. We are also following HB 264, which requires bidder registration at tax sales. This bill passed the House by a vote of 185 – 16 and will move to the Senate next.
Another bill we are tracking is a reintroduced bill from the 2019-2020 session. HB 1015 would allow the issuance of a possession order at the time of judgment for the landlord. The Housing Alliance, as it did last year, opposes this bill. Next week, the Housing Alliance will issue a formal letter.
As you can tell, a lot is going on at the Housing Alliance, in the General Assembly, and at the U.S. Capitol. Remember to keep advocating.