Homelessness in the United States is a big issue right now, but the term itself is a little misleading. Homelessness could refer to someone who lives on the streets, of course, but it also could be those who experience financial setbacks that make their housing costs unmanageable. Those who find themselves in that situation generally
Homelessness in the United States is a big issue right now, but the term itself is a little misleading. Homelessness could refer to someone who lives on the streets, of course, but it also could be those who experience financial setbacks that make their housing costs unmanageable. Those who find themselves in that situation generally do not have any choice but to find any port in the storm (usually from friends or family members), which makes more people suffer from a housing problem due to the doubling up.
Owning a home is costly, to be sure, but renters also have it tough these days. Almost half of the renters in the United States pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and of that number, a quarter pays more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Given that a third of all housing units in Williamsport are rentals, this problem begins to come into focus.
Studies have shown for some time that housing has been one of the pressing concerns in Lycoming County, but the right approach on how to address it has been somewhat elusive. Various agencies address homelessness, such as American Rescue Workers, Family Promise, the YWCA/Liberty House, etc. But this problem also touches banks, realtors, veterans, those on probation, and a host of other stakeholders. How do all these moving parts fit together?
To provide information and education on these housing challenges, the Lycoming County Housing Coalition was established a number of years ago. Consisting of some twenty different agencies related to housing support, the Coalition was designed to find a way to coordinate their efforts. In 2008, Rosanne Pelleschi became chairman of the Coalition after retiring from the United Way. Since her work with United Way involved funding various housing initiatives, she was well positioned to lead the Coalition. Her focus for the first few years was continuing the Coalition’s goals of educating the public and public officials on housing needs. It was obvious, however, that something more was needed.
A breakthrough happened in 2014 when a Housing Symposium was held at the Genetti Hotel, which was made up of the various social service agencies, as well as landlords and real estate companies to discuss the “needs gap” in housing. It was obvious that there was a great deal of interest on these matters, as over 100 participants took part. This was right around the time that the gas industry was still having a significant impact, and everyone agreed that something had to be done for the working poor who had jobs but just could not meet the costs of housing.
Ironically, the gas industry that exacerbated the housing problems also provided much-needed assistance. The Act 13 impact fees, which were signed into law by Governor Corbett in 2012 created funds that could be used specifically for housing, specifically the Pennsylvania Housing Affordable and Rehabilitation and Enhancement Fund (PHARE), which had been established in 2010. The PHARE Act did not allocate any funding, so Act 13 came along just in time.
This funding came along through the Lycoming County Planning Department and their deputy director, Kim Wheeler. Kim was part of that 2014 Housing Symposium and began discussions with the county commissioners on how the county could help. Through PHARE funds and also the Commonwealth’s Department of Community and Economic Development grants, Lycoming County began to make some inroads on needed housing projects such as Memorial Homes, Grove Street Commons, Brodart Neighborhood Improvement Program, and the Muncy Green Senior Housing Development.
But it takes more than bricks and mortar to solve the housing challenge, and the Housing Coalition developed some amazingly innovative solutions. These will be discussed in the next issue, so stay tuned to this station — you or someone you know may need some housing help, and the good news is that there is help to be had.
- January 16, 2019