Taking a ‘Housing First’ approach, Freeman bills would address blight and homelessness in tandem

Pa. state Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, has introduced legislation aimed at addressing the findings from a Joint State Government Commission study on homelessness in Pennsylvania, while also providing a pathway for communities across the commonwealth to turn blighted properties into affordable housing options— impacting an estimated 15,000 Pennsylvanians experiencing homelessness, (either being on the streets, doubled up with family or friends, or in shelters) on any given day.

“The study conducted by the Joint State Government Commission concluded that one of the primary causes of homelessness in Pennsylvania is a lack of affordable housing,” Freeman said. “Simultaneously, here in the Lehigh Valley, and communities across the commonwealth, blight has turned troubled properties into liabilities.

“My legislation, (House Bills 960 and 961) takes a ‘Housing First’ approach, while providing the substantive solutions tailored to the unique needs we’re facing here in Pennsylvania,” Freeman said.

According to Freeman, his legislation would work together to provide a directive to municipal land banks to convert a portion of the blighted properties they acquire into housing for the homeless and would provide a tax credit under the existing Neighborhood Assistance Program to private developers who partner with land banks and non-profit organizations to rehabilitate such properties.

Specifically, H.B. 960 would expand the powers of land banks to enter into partnerships with organizations in the private sector to create local solutions to address the lack of housing for the homeless population within their community and exempt all land bank transactions from both state and local realty transfer taxes. House Bill 961 would expand the eligibility criteria of the Neighborhood Assistance Program to include homeless housing assistance programs or projects among the eligible activities and uses of contributions under the program.

“My legislation addresses a real need in our communities and is an important consideration in dealing with affordable housing issues,” Freeman said.

Freeman, has served as the Democratic chairman of the House Local Government Committee since 2007. The longest-serving member in the current Lehigh Valley delegation, his legislative district includes the city of Easton, all of Williams and parts of Lower Saucon and Palmer townships, and the boroughs of Freemansburg, Glendon, West Easton, Wilson and Hellertown.