Housing supporters seek federal aid

BY ROBERT SWIFT

Times-Shamrock Writer

Shortages of affordable housing in the Marcellus Shale drilling boom region can be addressed if Congress helps finance a newly created state housing trust fund, a coalition of housing supporters said Tuesday.

They said $40 million in federal aid would capitalize the newly created Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund so it can help developers and non-profit agencies finance new housing and stabilize rents in drilling areas, help first-time homebuyers and provide homes for individuals with disabilities. Gov. Ed Rendell signed a law two weeks ago establishing the trust fund, but no state funding has been appropriated for it.

The trust fund will help the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency respond better to shifting demands for housing in different regions, including the Marcellus region, said executive director Brian Hudson. PHFA has been given authority under the new state law to raise money from foundations and the private sector for the fund.

PHFA is starting to focus on the challenges presented with an influx of workers from the natural gas industry to largely rural areas where wells are being drilled. Rental prices have tripled in some communities, thus creating a shortage in affordable housing for long-time residents.

The agency expects to complete a study within two months examining increases in rental prices in recent years and their impact on housing in a 10-county area, including Susquehanna, Wyoming, Bradford and Sullivan counties, added Mr. Hudson.

He wants to tap the fund to provide direct rental assistance to families and tax credits to developers to build apartments that would be rented to families that meet income guidelines.

In addition, Mr. Hudson said he plans to ask drilling companies to make financial contributions to the trust fund to help subsidize housing programs in the Marcellus region.

But first Mr. Hudson and representatives of housing advocacy, realtor and builder organizations are urging Pennsylvania’s congressmen to take the lead in pushing for $1 billion in federal trust fund housing. Pennsylvania’s share would be $40 million.

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