The Pa. Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate share their plans for affordable housing | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Pa. Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate share their plans for affordable housing

New City Paper series will examine the senate race one issue at a time

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McGinty says that concentrated poverty is negatively affecting communities because residents are either struggling to pay bills or nomadically moving to where they can afford, and thus not contributing to the community’s well-being. She says that when gentrification occurs and long-time residents leave, “they are not being replaced by people who are equally invested in the social capital of the neighborhood and community.”

She suggests that new development — housing, transportation, etc. — be required to include funding dedicated toward affordable housing, and assurances that jobs linked to the development be given to residents of the neighborhoods affected. McGinty also argued that neighbors’ knowledge of their communities is invaluable, and that community members should be involved with development projects from the onset. She says she supported this policy while working as the state’s environmental secretary for a large sewage-rehab project in Reading.

McGinty says that inclusionary practices can lead to a “virtuous cycle,” where residents of a community in need can benefit not just from the new development, but also from the good-paying jobs that come along with it. She says that housing problems don’t “exist in isolation,” and that lifting wages will also help residents pay for rising rents. McGinty believes that fostering a virtuous cycle will help lift the low-income residents out of poverty, so they can contribute to the neighborhood. 

“We also need to get over any notion that this is a charity case,” says McGinty “The point is, these families are the backbones in the community, and they will volunteer in the schools, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and firefighters, etc… [We should be] ensuring that they can continue to be that backbone of the community.”

Sestak too believes that providing affordable housing is in the country’s best interest. He says gentrification disproportionately affects minorities, and since minorities will represent the largest portion of Americans in the near future, we must address affordable-housing issues.

“In 16 to 17 years, [minorities] are going to be our largest national asset in terms of numbers, and if they aren’t the largest national asset in terms of quality [services], then American is harmed,” says Sestak. “To me, this is not just about helping out individuals who need a helping hand, it is about all of us.”

Sestak says affordable housing is not an emerging issue in Pennsylvania; he’s been working to support low-income housing for the past eight years. As a congressman, he voted in 2007 to establish the National Housing Trust Fund. The fund should start doling out monies to states this year (Pennsylvania should get more than $7 million.)

Sestak says his strategy to promote affordable housing is three-fold. He wants to expand the federal low-income tax-credit program, which provides developers with tax savings if they include permanently affordable housing units. Sestak says that increasing tax credits by 50 percent could create more than 200,000 units per year nationally. He also wants to establish a tax credit for landlords, who would then offer their units to low-income renters (sort of like Section 8 vouchers, but with landlords reaching out to residents, instead of the other way around). Lastly, he wants to beef up enforcement of Section 8 vouchers.

To fund these ideas, Sestak says that first we need to optimize government revenue (by doing things like getting rid of tax breaks for companies who move overseas). But he also thinks that increasing government tax credits can foster public-private partnerships, since there is more to offer private developers. (McGinty also advocates leveraging more private funding for affordable housing.)

Sestak believes that the government should also implement programs that help first-time homebuyers.

“Your home is your castle, rental or owned, and when you lose or don’t have a home and are threatened with being homeless, it terrifies people,” says Sestak. “And that is why so many people identify homeownership as part of the American Dream, as part of their security.”


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