Affordable housing incentives fall short of regulatory hurdles



(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators want more renter protections, but critics argue it amounts to an endorsement of rent control.

An August letter signed by Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman urged the Federal Housing Finance Agency to “support housing that is both affordable and safe for the tenants it serves” by boosting “common sense tenant protections.”

Among those, the letter asks for “limits against egregious rent hikes in properties with financing backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” require good cause for evictions and lease non-renewals with a “strong definition” of “good cause,” stronger requirements for housing maintenance standards, an enforceable right for tenants to organize (such as tenant associations or tenant unions), among others.

“These protections should be regarded as a minimum for participation in Enterprise-backed mortgages and should not supersede any more protective State, local, or federal requirement,” the letter noted.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back mortgages for almost 25% of rental units nationally.

Casey argued that he wants to do more than strengthen renter protections.

“Housing is more than just a roof over your head; it’s the place where safety, well-being, and community start,” Casey told The Center Square. “To ensure every Pennsylvanian has access to safe, quality housing, I am working to expand tax credits for affordable housing and incentivize developers to build new housing for seniors and people with disabilities, who deserve a real choice when it comes to the place they call home.”

Fetterman’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Casey’s office pointed to his support of the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, which provides tax credits as a way to lower construction costs for developers who build housing for low-income renters. He has also cosponsored legislation to expand the program.

Pennsylvania developers have argued that high labor costs and excessive bureaucracy have driven up the cost of building more housing, as The Center Square previously reported. Local zoning rules, for example, can reduce the number of apartments or homes in a planned development, driving up per-unit costs and reducing the overall housing supply.

Casey has supported a plan to offer $85 million in grants for state and local governments as an incentive to reform zoning rules to expand affordable housing.

However, critics of those approaches have found that grants to encourage change don’t move the needle.

The Department of Transportation offered more than $2 billion in grants for projects to encourage zoning reform, but few projects that received funding were connected to places that made it easier to build more housing.

The letter also raised concerns of a “rent control regime” that could exacerbate housing shortages in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

“Rent control is a failed policy, which does nothing to alleviate the root causes of housing affordability issues—namely the fact that our nation’s housing supply has not kept pace with the needs of our growing population,” Colin Dunn of the National Multifamily Housing Council said.

Zoning issues have received more state attention in recent years, as The Center Square previously reported. The concern is that most land prohibits multi-family construction like apartment buildings and duplexes, driving up the size — and cost — of housing.

Officials from the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors told state legislators in May that municipalities aren’t likely to take proactive measures.

“We need to have something, a directive, coming from the state,” Glenn Yoder, the legislative committee chair for PAR, said.



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