Update: Francis House of Peace/Ping An Celebrates Grand Opening!

This spring, RHLS was thrilled to celebrate the Grand Opening of Project HOME and the Chinatown CDC’s latest development, Francis House of Peace/Ping An. This dynamic project will serve formerly homeless men and women, young adults, and provide affordable housing for seniors in the Chinatown area. Further, the project includes commercial space on the ground floor. Read more about the RHLS process in the original post (below), and check out a few photos from the opening!

RHLS Celebrates the Groundbreaking of 810 Arch Street

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Helping Homeowners Save Their Homes: RHLS Advocates for Changes to PA’s Act 91/6 Notice

Each year, lenders send thousands of “Act 91 Notices” to Pennsylvania homeowners to inform them that they are in default on their mortgages, they face foreclosure, and they can take steps to save their homes.

The Act 91 Notice is required by Pennsylvania law and is established by a policy issued by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). The existing notice was universally criticized as being incomprehensible, legalistic and confusing, thereby creating an unnecessary barrier for homeowners to understand what actions they should take and what rights they have to save their homes.

Regional Housing Legal Services Executive Director, Mark Schwartz, proposed that revisions to the notice were necessary after multiple years of only a small percentage of Act 91 notice recipients applying to the Homeowner’s Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). Consulting a Housing counselor defers the filing of foreclosures in Court, connects the homeowner with a certified housing counselor, and ultimately, may help homeowners modify their mortgages or get HEMAP loans in order to avoid foreclosure.

Mark Schwartz and Managing Attorney, Judy Berkman, worked with stakeholders across the Commonwealth to propose changes that would have the buy-in of banking companies, community-based organizations, legal service providers, and housing advocates. With the assistance of knowledgeable Community Legal Services attorneys and other housing advocates, RHLS was able to propose significant changes to the Act 91 Notice.

Key changes to the Notice include the following:

• A simpler plain language one page notice on the homeowners’ rights, including meeting with a free housing counselor and applying for HEMAP. (There is a translation in Spanish on the reverse, and translations are available on the PHFA website in Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Cambodian/Khmer.)
• A clear one page notice on what the homeowner can do to cure the default and bring it current.
• Changes to the format of the notice, such as font and spacing, to draw attention to key portions including the importance of contacting a housing counseling agency.

RHLS and the housing advocates also proposed several changes to the PHFA Policy Statement regarding HEMAP to make sure that no new obstacles were inadvertently imposed on homeowners applying for HEMAP loans.

RHLS believes the changes to the Act 91 Notice will ultimately result in more homeowners seeking guidance from housing counselors, successfully applying for HEMAP, and saving their homes from foreclosure.

Lenders in Pennsylvania will be required to use the new Act 91 Notice on or before September 1, 2016. For further information, including the PHFA letter to Members of HEMAP Constituent Groups.

RHLS would like to express its sincere thanks to the dedicated attorneys at Community Legal Services and other Pennsylvania housing advocates and other stakeholders, as well as the staff of PHFA and the PA Department of Banking, for their hard work and collaboration on a very difficult task.

Read more about this work in The Pennsylvania Record. 

Have you received an Act 91 Notice? Learn about next steps.

Celebrating the Grand Opening of Reliance Crossing in Souderton

Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS) celebrated the grand opening of long-time clients Genesis Housing Corporation‘s newest development, Reliance Crossing, at the end of June. Reliance Crossing is an affordable multi-family rental project located at the crossing of North 2nd Street and East Reliance Road in Souderton Borough, Montgomery County. The development offers a selection of affordable two and three bedroom rentals for low-to-moderate income households. The property Reliance Crossingincludes a community building that features a large lounge area with a kitchenette for residents, management offices, a supportive services office, as well as a patio and outdoor playground.

The two-bedroom units range from 1,000 – 1,100 square feet, while the three-bedroom units contain between 1,250 and 1,350 square feet of space including both townhome style residences and flats. Six of these units are designed to be completely handicapped-accessible.

Developers Genesis Housing Corporation were careful to keep the character of the buildings consistent with the surrounding community, with the apartments designed as independent, but linked structures. Each also features a private entry to create a “distinct sense of place” for each resident.

Reliance Crossing was developed by Montgomery County nonprofit housing developer Genesis Housing Corporation, a nonprofit that has worked to develop affordable housing and educate consumers on housing and financial issues for over 20 years. RHLS attorneys  Kim Dolan and Dina Schlossberg provided technical and legal assistance to Genesis in closing the transaction.

The development was funded with an award of low income housing tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Montgomery County HOME and BH/DD funds, and financing from Wells Fargo Bank and Community LeReliance Crossingnders. Genesis partnered with the Ingerman Group, leading affordable housing developer and manager of multi-family communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, to add high-quality and affordable units to the rental stock.


RHLS Clients Advocate for Solutions to Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Task Force appeared before the Pittsburgh City Council on April 28th to present recommendations that address the City’s growing affordable housing crisis. RHLS Staff Attorney, Bob Damewood, provided legal assistance to long-time clients Pittsburgh United and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania in crafting some of the key recommendations discussed at the meeting.

The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania estimates that Pittsburgh is currently lacking 21,000 units of affordable housing for individuals and families with low incomes. The Affordable Housing Task Force seeks to address these needs by analyzing and conducting ongoing reviews of housing needs assessments, studying the implications of policies and programs on the housing stock, and promoting community engagement to receive input and feedback.

During the meeting conducted on the 28th, the task force provided the following preliminary recommendations:

  • Establish an Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the City of Pittsburgh to repair the existing housing stock, increase stabilization, support permanent affordability, provide opportunities for affordable homeownership, and address vacant housing and buildings.
  • Increase and expand usage of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to support the acquisition and rehabilitation of existing affordable housing as well as financing development for mixed-income housing.
  • Create incentives for inclusionary housing in order to generate additional affordable units.
  • Preserve existing deed-restricted housing, particularly including the 2,000 affordable housing units are set to expire as income-restricted by the year 2020.
  • Preserve existing naturally occurring affordable housing through tax relief for long-time owner occupants and protections for tenants who are at risk of displacement.

Read the full Affordable Housing Task Force Post-Agenda Report.

Check out Pittsburgh’s Action News 4’s report on the Affordable Housing Tasks Force’s meeting with City Council here.

Judy Berkman Honored with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s Good Neighbor Award

Building HOPE Luncheon

Press Release

2016 Habitat for Humanity Good Neighbor Award

Judy Berkman, Managing Attorney with Regional Housing Legal Services to receive Habitat Philadelphia’s Good Neighbor Award in recognition of her commitment to affordable housing.

Building HOPE Luncheon, Tuesday, April 26 (12:00 – 1:30)

PA Convention Center Grand Hall

About the Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia Good Neighbor Award
Created in 2010, the Good Neighbor Award honors individuals or groups that consistently give of their time, talent, voice or resources to significantly advance Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build and repair homes in partnership with families in need. The Good Neighbor Award was created in loving memory of Patrick Monaghan, who volunteered with Habitat as both a way to positively impact the lives of others and also to have fun. Recipients are chosen annually by Habitat staff.

Recipient, Judy Berkman, will be available for photos and interviews.

For some, home is not just a place- it is also a process. Judy Berkman understands this figuratively and literally. For the past five years Judy has been Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s primary legal counsel, providing pro-bono legal services from everything from vendor contracts to home settlements. As managing attorney with Regional Housing Legal Services, a non-profit law firm with unique expertise in affordable, sustainable housing and its related components, Judy has gone above and beyond with her extensive service to Habitat and the families the organization assists.

In addition to creating and reviewing all the organizations legal documents, Judy has also been an active member of the Family Services and Critical Repairs Committees, helping to administratively shape Habitat’s growing repair program. Her work around Habitat’s repair program has resulted in 271 existing low-income homeowners receiving critical repairs. In addition, since 2011, Judy has facilitated home closings for 37 first-time, low-income homebuyers- helping these families enjoy the many benefits of homeownership that forms the cornerstone in the lives of families and communities.

When asked about what motivates her, Berkman offered, “I love helping my clients to resolve, strategize, and figure out solutions. I really see my job and Regional Housing’s mission as connecting to possibilities. With each house sold by Habitat, there is usually some complication and I am there, behind the scenes to ensure that the issue is resolved.”

Frank Monaghan, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, states, “Judy Berkman is an invaluable asset to vulnerable families, to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and to our City. Her passion and tenacity for affordable housing combined with legal acumen ensures that more families have the opportunity to buy and remain in their homes.”

Monaghan will present Berkman with the Good Neighbor Award at the annual Building Hope Luncheon held Tuesday, April 26th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The organization expects 1,200 attendees at this year’s luncheon where Ukee Washington is the keynote speaker. Mayor Jim Kenney will also be speaking at the event marking Habitat for Humanity’s 30th anniversary.

About Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia
An affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International—the largest non-profit homebuilder worldwide—Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia (habitatphiladelphia.org) transforms lives and our City by building and repairing quality homes in partnership with families in need and by uniting all Philadelphians around the cause of affordable housing. Founded in 1985, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia has built 190 homes to date. Partner families are required to contribute 350 hours of “sweat equity” in building their houses and others in order to qualify for the no-interest mortgage provided by Habitat.

Since spring of 2010 Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia has also strategically partnered with over 300 families to stabilize their homes through critical repairs and weatherization to keep homes safe, healthy and efficient.

With 3800 volunteers annually, Habitat believes we are all part of the solution to achieve affordable housing, and we welcome anyone willing to swing a hammer to help make affordable homes a reality.

About Regional Housing Legal Services
Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS) is a nonprofit law firm with unique expertise in affordable, sustainable housing and its related components — community and economic development, utility matters and preservation of home ownership. RHLS provides innovative project and policy solutions that help create sustainable communities offering decent, safe and affordable housing for lower-income Pennsylvanians.

Created in 1973 to address landlord/tenant issues for residents of dilapidated workforce housing in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, RHLS has grown to serve the legal needs of hundreds of nonprofit affordable housing developers and community organizations across the Commonwealth. Led by Executive Director, Mark Schwartz, and Chief Counsel, Mark Levin, the organization would grow to focus its resources toward maximizing impact by focusing on systemic issues that affected those it represented. To date, RHLS attorneys have helped to bring 6,985 units of housing to fruition, with deals totaling over $971,000,000 in financing.

Recognizing that housing is just one “piece of the puzzle,” to building stronger communities, RHLS maintains a steadfast commitment to affecting systemic change for the benefit of vulnerable populations. RHLS has consistently acted as a driving force behind many key policy changes in Pennsylvania that benefit the disenfranchised, including Pennsylvania’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

Click here to register for this great event!