Housing trust funds bolstered at local, state levels

City Council’s committee on appropriations voted on Tuesday to approve a $2 million increase to the local Housing Trust Fund. As PlanPhilly reported earlier this year, the additional money is targeted at the Energy FIT Philly program, which helps perform home repairs in low-income neighborhoods that are meant to lower energy costs for residents and in so doing keep home prices affordable.

The bill was sponsored by 2nd-District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. According to Johnson, it’s meant to capture some of the revenue returning to the city from properties that are coming off the ten-year tax abatement.

“Between 2016 and 2020, the City of Philadelphia will collect approximately $60 million in real estate taxes from properties with tax abatements that have expired…” Johnson told PlanPhilly, through an aide. “Going forward, we must commit a portion of the City’s share of this revenue to programs that help low-income families stay in their homes.”

Liz Robinson, the director of the Energy Coordinating Agency, which administers the Energy FIT program, testified in support of the bill at the Council hearing. So did Beth McConnell, policy director for the Philadelphia Association of CDCs.*

“When you’re barely able to afford keeping up with property taxes and basic necessities, delaying home maintenance is a fact of life,” McConnell said. “… Investing in home repair programs is just one way that Philadelphia can advance equitable development, by capturing a modest amount of additional revenue from a growing, strengthening city in the service of our lowest-income residents.”

McConnell’s group has also been advocating for a doubling of the Housing Trust Fund in the next administration. She was recently appointed as a member of mayor-elect Jim Kenney’s transition team.

Meanwhile, the current administration is opposed to the bill.

“While the administration supports the goal of coordinating home repair and energy services to preserve affordable housing, we cannot support this bill at this time because the $2 million transfer would result in a reduction in our Fiscal Year 16 general fund balance by that amount,” said Rebecca Rhynhart, the city’s budget director.

In response to questions from Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr., who chairs the committee, Rhynhart said that the Nutter administration won’t spend the money if the bill passes, but that the next administration could choose to do so. If the money isn’t spent by the end of the fiscal year, next summer, the appropriation goes back to the general fund.

The Energy FIT Philly program is currently not accepting applications. If the bill is approved by the full Council, the program could be open again next year.

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Wolf recently signed a law expanding the statewide housing trust fund created under the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act, or PHARE. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania had been advocating for an expansion in the fund for years.

The state fund had previously only been available in 37 Pennsylvania counties where Marcellus Shale drilling occurred, capturing a portion of the impact fee on gas drilling. Under the expansion, which had unanimous support in both houses of the state legislature, the fund will be available in every Pennsylvania county, funded by capturing a portion of future growth in the Realty Transfer Tax, up to $25 million a year.

Like the local housing trust fund, the state fund provides money for home repairs and rental assistance for low-income residents and people with disabilities. The expansion passed with only one opposition vote in either the state house or senate.

Read about more local policies aimed at helping low-income residents maintain their homes here.


 

*McConnell is also a member of PlanPhilly’s advisory board.

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