45th Anniversary Luncheon

Join RHLS to celebrate 45 years of excellence in housing and community development!

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Event Chair and Master of Ceremonies


Markita Morris-Louis, RHLS Board of Directors and Senior Vice President & General Counsel at Clarifi

Keynote Speaker


Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Attorney General

Awardees


Harry S. Geller Utility Justice Award

Harry S. Geller, Former Executive Director, Pennsylvania Utility Law Project

Ernestine M. Watlington Community Development Award

Darrell Clarke, Philadelphia City Council President and Councilman for Philadelphia’s 5th District

Lifetime Achievement Award

Jane Downing, Program Officer, Community and Economic Development, The Pittsburgh Foundation

Lifetime Achievement Award

Sam Milkes, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network

 

In Memory of Lorry Post, Founder of RHLS

 

A photo from Lacey Park, the first community RHLS represented in the early 1970s.

Forty-five years ago, Lorry Post responded to a need in Southeastern Pennsylvania— low-income communities were eager to rebuild and renew but had difficulty accessing the means to do so.

As he worked to ensure that the families and communities that needed Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds actually received them, Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS) came to be.

Lorry hired two young attorneys, Mark Levin and Mark Schwartz, to work with communities across the five-county area.

Mark Levin credits Lorry’s sense of justice and his inspiring vision for how lawyers could help low-income communities as the reason that he joined RHLS and became involved in housing-related work. 

Since the early 1970s, RHLS has assisted in the development and preservation of over 10,000 units of affordable housing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. RHLS attorneys have worked on policy matters on local, state, and national levels to protect low-income families and communities as well as to make additional resources available to improve their lives.

Even after his departure from RHLS, Lorry continued to work in legal aid and to advocate for low-income individuals. Over the span of his career as an attorney, he impacted thousands of lives in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Twenty years ago, Lorry wrote a letter regarding his role in founding RHLS in honor of the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary:

When I founded RHLS some 25 years ago, in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the progress and accomplishments that has been the history of this organization. Though I dreamed of a fully livable community for lower income families, I did not foresee what has been accomplished through the efforts of my successors at RHLS.My limited goal was to assure that low-income communities could take advantage of government and private programs to help in the rebuilding of their communities. In particular, CDBG was the major focus of my efforts.
Those efforts were aimed at assuring that the most disadvantaged families and communities in the five-county area were the primary targets for the dollars in this particular program, and that, among other activities, every single low-income homeowner who needed rehabilitation of his/her home would be given that opportunity. The program was highly successful in attaining that and other goals.
However, it was not until my departure from the program, and the two new leaders, Mark Schwartz and Mark Levin assumed the reins, that the program moved far beyond those limited goals. Now, I see the development of new housing, as well as rehabilitated housing, blooming everywhere in the area for habitation by low and moderate income families and senior citizens. I see complementary services, commercial, health and community activities and structures, all of which improve the quality of life for the residents of the area, blooming as well. Finally, I see full, vibrant communities blooming, giving the residents the opportunity to experience all of the benefits of the American dream.
I may have had the dream, but as a pragmatic person, it was more of a fantasy. I did not truly think that this dream could be fulfilled. Now, I am pleased beyond words that the leaders and staff and Board and volunteers of RHLS have brought this dream to fruition, beyond what I or anyone else could have expected. I applaud each and every one of you and will be always grateful.

Lorry, the staff and board of RHLS applaud and are grateful to you for your courage and humility.

Obituary for Lorry William Post

PULP Helps Protect CAP Consumers

On behalf of Pennsylvania Utility Law Project client, CAUSE-PA, PULP won a contested decision at the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in which the Commission recognized for the first time that protections were needed for low-income customers enrolled in PPL Electric Utilities’ customer assistance program (CAP), which provides reduced utility bills. PULP staff successfully advocated for protections that ensure that bills remain affordable for economically vulnerable customers and that the low-income programs remain viable.

PULP recognized that these protections were necessary because low-income CAP customers were being subjected to millions of dollars per year in unnecessary costs by unregulated electric generation suppliers. The PUC approved a proposal that would both provide necessary protections and allow low-income customers to save additional money. CAUSE-PA, as well as the State’s Office of Consumer Advocate, and the PUC’s own Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement advocated for the proposal.

While the matter is currently being reconsidered as a result of a request by the Retail Energy Supply Association, PULP staff are optimistic that the protections will remain. PULP’s Director, Patrick Cicero remarked,

“I am hopeful that the PUC will uphold its decision that PPL’s CAP customers need additional protection from unscrupulous contracts that charge excessive rates. Low-income households already experience energy poverty at staggering rates, and this crisis of unaffordability is unnecessarily exacerbated if economically fragile households are served by competitive energy suppliers at rates higher than those charged by the utility company. The protections approved by the PUC in its recent decision are appropriate steps in the right direction.”

PULP is currently working on this issue on behalf of CAUSE-PA with each of the major electric companies throughout the state. Read more about the protections in this article on the Morning Call.

Regional Housing Legal Services and the PA Utility Law Project are celebrating 20 years of working together to help Pennsylvanians. 

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.

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