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 and PULP PA Legal Aid Network Sessions- Join Us!

22120499429_609cc32d55_zWe simply can’t wait for this year’s Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Conference! Make sure to check out some of the great sessions that RHLS and PULP are presenting. We hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 29th

Reducing Homelessness Through Eviction Defense
9:00 AM – 10:30 AM       Susquehanna Room

Manufactured Home Community Rights Act
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM       Juniata Room

Rent to Own: Strategizing Case Handling Options
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM       Allegheny Room

Preventing Housing and Utility Insecurity for Victims of Domestic Violence
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM         Susquehanna Room

Friday, September 30th

Utility Law Updates
8:30 AM – 10:00 AM       Delaware Room

Utility Law for Housing Attorneys
10:15 AM – 11:15 AM         Juniata Room

Check out the full list of the conference sessions here. 


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.