HARRISBURG, April 4, 2014 – With a shortage of more than 200,000 available and affordable rental units statewide, more residents abandoning homes that have become unaffordable, and the escalating price of homeownership, state Sen. John Blake joined housing experts this morning to discuss reasonable initiatives to expand the supply of adequate and affordable housing.

Blake’s “Affordable Housing Forum” featured expert panelists from six organizations that work to help people find homes they can pay for and live in for many years.

“There is an affordable housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the recent economic recession and persisting stagnant wages, high property taxes and other rising costs of living,” Blake said during his opening of the forum. “Foreclosures, distressed homeownership, blight and poverty continue to work together to make this problem worse but I believe there are answers, and I believe this forum will make a difference in finding them.”

The experts who participated in Blake’s forum included Nichole Bennett, United Neighborhood Centers’ director of program analysis and data quality; Athena Aardweg, Self-Determination Housing Project’s Region 4 housing coordinator; Peg Ruddy, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center; Jesse Ergott, president and CEO, NeighborWorks NEPA; Michael Hanley, United Neighborhood Centers’ executive director; Bryce Maretzki, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s director of strategic planning and policy; and Cindy Daley, policy director for the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance.

Before a sold-out Swartz Center on Marywood University’s campus, the experts and Sen. Blake discussed the affordable housing spectrum, the housing needs for domestic violence survivors, challenges to making more affordable homes available, and unfortunately, the failure of the commonwealth to fund a state program that was signed into law in 2010.

Blake, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced Senate Bill 216 a year ago to finally provide revenue for the Statewide Housing Trust Fund. That fund was approved in 2010 as Act 105 but it has yet to receive a revenue stream.

SB 216 would finally deliver dollars to the Statewide Housing Trust Fund. That revenue, however, would not come from Pennsylvania’s general fund budget.

Instead, Blake’s proposal would give counties the option to participate in the trust fund and generate revenue to deliver more affordable housing through fees paid when certain writs are recorded in their Recorder of Deeds offices. In 2011, more than 800,000 of these writs were filed in county offices throughout Pennsylvania.

The senator’s proposed legislation would not allow counties to increase the fees on the recording of mortgages or deeds but it would permit nominal increases in fees for things like the recording of easements, declaration of plans, and rights of way.

Counties that choose to participate in the trust fund program would be able to retain 25 percent of the revenue generated for affordable housing projects; the remainder would be delivered to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to pay for the debt service on any trust fund bond issue.

“We must work to deliver an adequate supply of affordable housing to ensure health, safety and dignity for all of our citizens and particularly for people with disability. Homeownership is the essential builder of wealth in America and investing in quality housing is critical to growing our regional economy,” Blake said. “My bill is but one idea of many that we are considering.”

The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in a study released earlier this year that the average wage needed to pay for a two-bedroom home was $18.92 an hour. That’s more than two-and-a-half times Pennsylvania’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage, Blake said.

“This disparity underscores a problem in NEPA and across the commonwealth,” the senator said.

Blake’s SB 216 has yet to be considered by the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee.