Access to low-income housing improved, but more needs to be done according to study

The availability of rental units and other types of housing suitable for individuals and families with low to moderate incomes has increased since 2011, but more still needs to be done to ensure the availability of quality, affordable housing and to prevent homelessness, according to a recent study. The study was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) and conducted by Jonathan Williamson, Ph.D. and Bonita Kolb, Ph.D. of Lycoming College’s Center for the Study of Community and the Economy (CSCE).

The result of Marcellus natural gas development increased demand for rental housing units that caused a sharp increase in rental prices that forced those in the lowest cost units out of the rental market into couch surfing or other forms of homelessness, according to CSCE research in 2011. The 2015 follow-up study concluded the situation is no longer in crisis, partly because of a lessening of drilling activity and partly because individuals and communities adapted to changing housing demand. Although current rents have leveled off or declined some in the areas studied, they are not back to pre-Marcellus levels. Low-income renters who do not have access to subsidized housing are often still forced to rent overpriced units.

The study’s recommendations call for continuing programs that package together tax-credits, PHARE funds, local Act 13 funds, and private dollars to develop affordable housing for low to moderate income residents. It also recommends helping local officials better understand how existing programs can be combined and used to increase the supply of affordable housing. Finally, it identified the need to overcome barriers preventing the development or rehabilitation of moderately-priced, market-rate owner-occupied homes.

The new research consisted of more than 50 interviews of local elected officials, county and municipal planners, housing authority officials, social service agency representatives, developers, realtors, and gas company representatives on rental housing affordability and availability, owner-occupied housing, and related development activity. Several data sources were also used to support the findings including the Census and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the use of local Act 13 Impact Fee funds on housing.

Details about the study can be found on the Pennsylvania Finance and Housing Committee’s website and at http://www.marcellus.psu.edu/resources/PDFs/housingreport.pdf.

Useful Resources