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April 9, 2024 Advocacy, Community, Family, Neighborhood Revitalization

PA Habitat for Humanity Affiliates Call on State Leaders to Fund Affordable Housing and Home Repair Programs

Habitat Advocacy Day 1

Representatives from 10 Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Pennsylvania visited the Capitol on April 9 in an organized advocacy effort, urging legislators to support a series of bills and budget items that will impact hundreds of thousands of PA homeowners. Habitat staff members, homeowners and home repair clients attended forty-four individual meetings with members of the PA House and Senate to discuss the Whole-Home Repairs (WHR) program, PA Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE), Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credit (NAP) and Smart Land Use for Increasing Housing Affordability.

“This was a new approach for us,” said Carrie Rathmann, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. “Many of us have participated in lobby days in the past, but this was the first time we unified and organized as a coalition of Pennsylvania affiliates. It was a powerful experience.”

Advocating for smarter housing policies is becoming a more integral part of Habitat for Humanity’s approach to combatting the affordable housing crisis in Pennsylvania. The demand is unyielding; Pennsylvania needs 90,000 more homes, according to Andrew Szalay, President & CEO of Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity. Wages have not kept up with home prices, and the racial and ethnic gaps in access to homeownership persist.

“People know Habitat for building and repairing homes,” says Rathmann, “but without more robust funding at the state and local levels, systemic inequities will continue to persist. By forming a coalition of Habitat affiliates across the Commonwealth, we can better support our legislators in meeting the needs of homeowners in our communities.”

Twenty-three affiliates in all expressed their support ahead of this year’s advocacy visit, with 10 sending attendees in person: Allegheny Valley, Berks County, Bucks County, Greater Harrisburg Area, Greater Lycoming, Lancaster Lebanon, Monroe County, Montgomery & Delaware Counties, Philadelphia and Snyder-Union-Northumberland.

Habitat Advocacy Day

Representatives from Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia meet with Representative Joanna McClinton, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. From left: Adrienne Dolberry, Habitat homeowner; Malik Davis, Habitat homeowner; Rep. McClinton; Sey Agbotey, program intern; Lois Napper, Habitat homeowner and Homeowner Services Program Manager; Carrie Rathmann, Director of Strategic Programs.

Attendees met with elected officials from their home districts to express support for a series of programs that have had moderate success but would benefit from increased or permanent funding. The Whole-Home Repairs (WHR) program, a comprehensive fund that addresses habitability and safety concerns, was originally championed by Sen. Nikil Saval and recently held up as a potential national blueprint by Sen. John Fetterman. WHR was capitalized through an initial $125 MM in ARPA funds, and $50 MM was allocated in the FY24 state budget, but it has not yet been released.

PHARE, the PA Housing Affordability & Rehabilitation Enhancement, provides flexible means to build, repair, and preserve affordable housing with funds from the Realty Transfer Tax. In FY24, funds were capped at $60 MM, yet existing taxes yield more revenue that could increase the program’s impact. The PA Habitat coalition supports increasing the PHARE funding cap by $40 MM over four years and specifically raising the PHARE cap to $70 Million for FY25.

The Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credit (NAP) offers an avenue for private companies to support non-profit housing and community development projects. The Habitat coalition supports increasing NAP tax credit allocation from $36 MM to $72 MM annually and making updates to the existing program.

Smart land use policies promote access to affordable housing, and there are currently several House and Senate bills being reviewed that would result in increased housing supply through policies that maximize land use in denser and transportation-rich areas while also bringing down the cost of development.

Habitat for Humanity is the only developer serving households with income at 30-80% of the Area Median Income. Several states, including New Jersey, have added funding for Habitat-like home production to their budget. Pennsylvania could do the same.

There are many avenues to increase funding for affordable homeownership and home repair, and all are desperately needed to provide opportunity and access to the life-changing asset that is a home.

Habitat for Humanity was not alone in their call on this advocacy day. State Representative Donna Bullock and State Representative Ishmail Smith Wade-El held a press conference in the Rotunda to raise awareness of Fair Chance Housing legislation.

There is significant momentum behind the affordable housing movement, and Habitat for Humanity affiliates will continue to raise their voices to build influence and hope for Pennsylvania communities. Because everyone deserves a decent place to live.

More Coverage: ‘Affordable Housing is not affordable:’ Habitat for Humanity leaders lobby for more funding at State Capitol | fox43.com