Community Action has at any time an array of public policy initiatives. Sometimes we are fighting policy retreat that takes past gains away, sometimes we’re fighting to advance a progressive agenda. But we’re always in the fight. Following are some key issues we are watching or are in the middle of the fray:
GOVERNOR TOM CORBETT’S PROPOSED 2012-2013 BUDGET
To study this budget proposal, one would think our problems are over: deep cuts in human services, education, community and development, and still no funding for the 30-year-old Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, while cutting taxes like the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. We are approaching the end of the fiscal year and the state is projecting a surplus approaching $800 million.
But we aren’t cutting programs because they aren’t needed. And we apparently aren’t cutting them because we don’t have the revenue. That leaves one explanation: the folks who proposed this budget don’t want to do the things those programs do.
It’s difficult to understand, I know, but that’s what we’re up against.
This program, in place since Community Action helped establish it in 1983, is a huge success, having saved tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians’ homes. The governor killed it in the current budget, even though it pays for itself, even though it’s a loan program and, thus, pays for itself, even though the Federal Reserve has encouraged states to replicate it, even though it saves the state money by elevating the bond rating of the PA Housing Finance Agency.
The settlement with the big banks on “robo-signing” led to a windfall for Pennsylvania that can fund HEMAP for at least three years.
So, the program works, the program is desperately needed, and the money is available to fund it. So, what’s the problem?
NEW PROTECTIONS FOR MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS
A few years ago, the residents of a mobile home park in Bethlehem Township were displaced in favor of new housing development. No doubt, the township supervisors, an incredibly reactionary lot, were glad to get rid of them.
But the displacement drove home the incredibly minimal protections the residents have. While Lou Pektor, the developer who displaced them, did the right thing by paying the residents significant sums to offset their displacement, it was very clear that the law needed to change.
Into the fray steps super good-guy Representative Bob Freeman, who introduced HB 2191, which offers a variety of new protections. The bill would require manufactured home community owners, when closing the community, to:
inform residents within 60 days of any decision to close the community;
inform the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the home municipality also within 60 days;
give residents at least six months to leave the community when the closure notice is made — under current law they only have 30 days;
consider any offer to purchase the community by a resident association representing at least 25 percent of the manufactured home spaces;
pay relocation expenses of up to $4,000 for single and $6,000 for multi-section manufactured homes;
pay at least $2,500 or the home’s appraised value, whichever is greater, when the homeowner is unable or unwilling to relocate the home; and
allow tenants to terminate any leases without penalty after receiving the community’s closure notice.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
PAYDAY LENDING REARS ITS UGLY HEAD AGAIN
I try not to be too strident but House Bill 2191 is poison.
There is, literally, Biblical precedent for opposing usurious lending. Going back more than two thousand years, reputable leaders, prophets and sophisticated cultures opposed it. If the United States had been paying more attention, we would have banned much of the predatory lending that eventually brought down the American economy.
Perhaps the most hideous of all predatory lending is what is commonly called payday lending. Community Action worked hard to have this product banned altogether in Pennsylvania. Consequently, the product has been unavailable in the state for a few years.
Payday loans are unsecured loans with, typically, two-week terms and interest rates annualized at up to 300% or even more. Because they are so expensive and the borrower is almost always desperate, they are rarely paid back within the two weeks and, therefore, are automatically rolled over. The federal banking regulators won’t embrace the product because it flies in the face of basic safety and soundness principles.
Amazingly, despite all we know about how dangerous it is to get seduced by such awful loan products, some state legislators are trying to bring it back, in the form of HB 2191.
I can’t even imagine how this bill, in this environment, ever found the light of day. They should turn the lights off on this product for good.
Fortunately, most Lehigh Valley legislators appear to be prepared to vote against it.