Housing has become a crisis for the homeless, low-income families and others finding themselves suddenly squeezed out of the market and looking for a place to live. It's also become a growing issue for the public at large.
Advocates representing service agencies, government, and business spoke out on the need to address the topic during a forum hosted by the Housing Coalition of Lycoming County at the Genetti Hotel Thursday.
The morning-long session, which included workshops addressing specific housing issues, served as a brainstorming session to learn what steps can be taken to address the matter.
Doreen White of the Transitional Living Center, right, comments on the lack of affordable housing for low-income employees during a break-out session at a regional forum on Reshaping Pennsylvania’s Housing Market at the Genetti Hotel Thursday.
Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, said gas drilling, with its influx of workers needing places to live, is driving up housing and rental costs.
The problem of helping people who suddenly find themselves unable to afford higher rents is a problem that communities can't solve alone.
A state housing trust fund that would pool capital for helping people with home and rental needs is among the possible solutions.
As it stands now, there exists "a mismatch between supply and demand" in the housing market, including a shortage of 220,000 rental units in the state, Hersh said.
With so many people unable to afford decent places to live, problems tied to crime, mental health and the overall economy can arise.
"Not doing anything right now is actually costing us money," she said.
Participants noted some of the positive strides already being taken.
Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana noted that in recent years a landlords' association has been formed and the city has committed to targeting blighted properties.
Dawn Astin of the American Rescue Workers referred to her agency's homeless men's shelter, along with an additional 24-bed emergency shelter set to open.
YWCA Executive Director Diane Glenwright noted the Y's three organizations that provide outreach, including Liberty House, a homeless shelter for women and children, which served 96 people last year.
Tioga County Commissioner Mark Hamilton said municipalities could use a funding boost from a severance tax.
Among the obstacles for residents looking for places to live are the lack of available jobs, high property taxes and restrictive regulations for first-time home buyers.
Rosann Pelleschi of the Lycoming County United Way said some landlords now refuse to rent to people other than gas company workers.
She also referred to lack of affordable housing for senior citizens.
Other problems mentioned included a shortage of Section 8 vouchers for living in public housing, burdensome government bureaucracy, potential home buyers riddled with bad credit, and ex-inmates who can't find work needed to afford housing.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said that some two-thirds of rental units in Lycoming County are in Williamsport, where 29,000, or just one-quarter, of the county's people live.
Using public funding for projects that target blighted neighborhoods rather than for single-development businesses such as downtown hotels might better address the housing problems, he and others said.