Senate committee examines challenges of PA cities, population trends

HARRISBURG — The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee examined some of the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities of all sizes during a public hearing on Tuesday, according to Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-29).

The hearing focused on the findings of a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University that detailed the effects of population changes in large and small cities throughout the state. The report found that while population loss in cities peaked decades ago, the lingering effects of urban flight continue in the form of urban decay and blight.

“The findings of this report confirm the fact that there is no easy one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. Each community faces its own set of challenges, and it is the responsibility of all of us to work closely with local communities to overcome these obstacles,” Argall said. “Over the past several years, we have worked together on a bipartisan basis to give communities a wider range of options to deal with the problem, and a similar approach to the issues of urban flight and decay could yield positive results.”

The report, presented by Teri Ooms, Executive Director for the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, urged lawmakers to support policies conducive to economic growth, including local government reform, improving access to federal and state programs, eliminating blight, exploring the benefits of public-private partnerships, supporting business development and ensuring proper land use planning and management.

Testimony from the hearing is available here.

“Urban flight” to get a closer examination at Senate committee hearing on Tuesday

HARRISBURG – The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee will examine the ongoing issues facing communities with population and homeownership decline, according to Chairman David G. Argall (R-29).

Over the past year, several headlines highlighted Detroit’s plight as it relates to population loss and what it means for Pennsylvania’s urban hubs. The Senate committee is bringing in Teri Ooms, the Executive Director at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University, to testify on the topic.

“We want to be ahead of the curve,” Chairman Argall said. “Detroit, unfortunately, is not an isolated case of a once-vibrant city turning into a magnet for crime and blight. I anticipate receiving some constructive dialogue and suggestions to determine where population loss is hurting our communities across the state.”

The committee hearing will be held on Tuesday, October 14 at the state Capitol in Hearing Room No. 1 of the North Office Building at 10 a.m.

The hearing will be live-streamed on Senator Argall’s website.

Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee approves anti-blight bills

HARRISBURG – The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee today voted on several proposals aimed at curbing blight, according to Committee Chairman Senator David G. Argall (R-29).

“The committee’s goal is to continue the ongoing ‘War on Blight’ and the bills the committee passed today do just that,” Argall said.

A proposal sponsored by Senator Kim Ward (R-39) would increase fines and penalties for property owners who are convicted multiple times for violating codes that pose a threat to public safety. Senate Bill 1242 contains enhanced penalties would only apply to property owners who have not made a reasonable attempt to correct the issue.

“I thank Senator Argall for moving this bill along since dilapidated properties are an issue in too many communities,” Ward said. “My bill will give municipalities stronger tools to address properties that are dangerous or a public nuisance.” 

In addition to Ward’s legislation, the committee unanimously reported out Senate Bill 1380, sponsored by Senators Elder Vogel (R-47) and Shirley Kitchen (D-3), which would use half of any future surplus revenue from the Realty Transfer Tax to provide funding for the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) program. The funding would finance construction, rental assistance, rehabilitation, home repair and demolition projects. The bill would not increase the current Realty Transfer Tax rate, Argall said.

“The economic case for strengthening PHARE – which has already proven its power to help alleviate blight, reduce homelessness, create jobs and drive economic activity – is compelling,” Vogel said.

The panel held a hearing last week to examine the impact of the PHARE program in communities that have received funding over the past two years. Because the program is currently funded entirely by natural gas impact fees, the only communities that have received funding through the program are in the 36 counties that host Marcellus Shale drilling operations.

“Given the fiscal challenges in Harrisburg and communities throughout Pennsylvania, it is imperative that we as elected officials pursue policies that can drive both local revitalization and broader economic growth,” Kitchen said.

A proposal sponsored by Senator Vince Hughes (D-7) received the unanimous support of the committee that would provide preference to veterans and families of active duty military when leasing public housing.

“By passing this bill, the committee has taken a huge step towards ensuring that our veterans and their families will be cared for, and that homelessness among veterans will soon vanish in Pennsylvania,” Hughes said. “I would like to thank my colleagues Senator Argall and Senator Brewster, who co-chair the committee, as well as all of the other members who voted in the affirmative, for ensuring that this important piece of veteran’s affairs legislation will head to the Senate floor.”

The committee also passed House Bill 1714, legislation designed to clarify existing laws relating to abandoned property.