Agency to make Marcellus housing aid decisions
BY ROBERT SWIFT
HARRISBURG – An initial outlay of revenue from gas drilling impact fees to address affordable housing needs in the Marcellus Shale region will be made next month by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
The agency’s governing board is scheduled to meet Dec. 13 to vote on proposals made by county and municipal officials to tap part of the $2.5 million collected for 2011 gas production, said spokesman Scott Elliott.
Under the 2012 impact fee law, affordable housing is identified as an impact of drilling because an influx of workers in small towns and rural areas has led to a scarcity of housing and increase in housing rents and prices. The issue was examined recently at a hearing of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport.
The recent fluctuation in natural gas prices has an impact on available housing, said a Wyoming County housing official at the hearing.
“Our past few years have been challenging with regards to providing safe, affordable housing to many of the residents affected throughout the region,” said Danielle Powell, a program manager for the Wyoming County Housing Authority. “Fortunately, in recent months we have experienced a stabilization in the number of families being affected by the rental housing crisis.
“We feel this is directly related to the plunge in natural gas prices and the industry workers moving on to more lucrative gas sites. However, we are concerned that as the price of natural gas increases in the market place, we will feel an increase in rental shortages once again.”
Wyoming County is seeking impact fee revenue to underwrite a program to help landlords renovate existing buildings in return for commitments to rent to low-income residents.
Such a use would be in line with a “fix it first” strategy advocated by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, an advocacy group.
Impact fee revenue can be used to rehabilitate vacant properties and provide low-interest loans to landlords who agree to fix up properties and rent them to low-income tenants, said HAP executive director Elizabeth Hersh at the Senate hearing.
Another approach is giving rental vouchers to help people bridge the gap between high rents and low wages or being on fixed income, she said.
The impact fee law specifies that revenue should go to make affordable housing more available to low- and moderate-income individuals and families, people with disabilities and the elderly. At least 15 of any funds awarded to a project must go to low-income individuals or families.
The $2.5 million in impact fee revenue will be distributed among 36 counties with at least half the sum going to lesser populated rural counties. The housing earmark will increase to $5 million for 2012 production.