Earlier this year, the attorneys general of 49 states reached a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s five biggest lenders to end mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses. Pennsylvania’s share of the settlement totals $266 million, with $69 million specifically allocated for direct payments to our state for local foreclosure initiatives.
After the announcement of the settlement, my fellow Democratic Senators and I sent a letter to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly asking her to earmark the $69 million to fund a state program to prevent foreclosures, known as the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). During this time, I also wrote in the February 28th edition of my News & Views about the beneficial and successful history HEMAP has had in Pennsylvania and why it is necessary to bring this program back.
In the 2011-12 budget, HEMAP’s funding was cut by roughly 81 percent, from about $10.5 million to $2 million. At that point, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), which administers HEMAP, determined that the $2 million appropriation was insufficient to continue the program. HEMAP was shut down in July 2011 and has been unable to service new clients since September 2011.
I am thrilled to announce that our efforts have been successful. On June 22nd, Senate Bill 1433 (SB1433) was signed into law (Act 70), once again providing a multi-year funding stream for HEMAP from the settlement money. I am pleased to have been not only a co sponsor to the now Act 70, but also to have aided the swift passage of this legislation.
Act 70 creates a trust fund with the settlement dollars for the purposes of HEMAP to be administered over five years and requires no tax dollars. In particular, 90 percent of the fund’s money is set for HEMAP, with the remaining ten percent split evenly between the Attorney General for housing consumer protection programs and the other five percent for legal assistance related to housing issues. Pennsylvania will receive an initial installment of $69 million as well as an immediate supplemental appropriation of $6 million for HEMAP to address a backlog.
After the initial year, the legislation stipulates no more than $12 million will be distributed from the fund on a yearly basis for the targeted services. PHFA has said its hopes to resume taking HEMAP applications as early as July.
In my experience as a Realtor, and as a State Senator, I understand what the housing crisis has done to so many families across the state. This settlement money earmarked for HEMAP is not a bailout, rather it provides loans to those Pennsylvanians who face foreclosure because of reasons like an unexpected medical emergency or being laid off from their job. Furthermore, more than 85 percent of families who have received HEMAP funding have been successful in repaying their loans. The evidence is clear that HEMAP has proven to be good for the community and a necessary part of our economic recovery.
Addressing Spot Assessments
Legislation dealing with property taxes, assessments and reassessments has been a big topic in the General Assembly recently. Various proposals have been floating around for several months including my Senate Bill 1462 (SB 1462). Unfortunately, most of these bills have seen little committee movement and have been set aside for the time being for budget negotiations.
Over the past few years, some municipalities and school districts across the state have used their ability to appeal the assessment of residential properties to the extent that the practice seems practically indistinguishable from “spot reassessments.” New homeowners find themselves having their assessed values and taxes increased while neighbors with similar houses continue to pay lower taxes. By law, this practice is illegal; however, there has been a push to get any “loopholes” closed.
During the 2007-08 session, House Bill 1438 (HB 1438) and Senate Bill 1247 (SB 1247) were passed by both chambers of the General Assembly that would protect taxpayers from unwarranted property tax increases by prohibiting school districts and municipalities from filing reverse assessment appeals on recently sold homes. Other than during a countywide reassessment, only the property owners would be able to file appeals under these bills with the exceptions of land that was subdivided or when improvements were made or removed from a property.
Although HB 1438 and SB 1247 received bipartisan support, then Governor Ed Rendell vetoed both pieces of legislation stating that these particular bills were problematic because they remove significant protections that local taxing agencies provide.
Several years later, many individuals are still facing “spot assessments.” Senate Bill 1309 (SB 1309) is a new approach to solving this problem and that is why I am a co sponsor to this bill. This legislation would ban taxing districts from appealing the assessment of a property based on the sale of the property if that taxing district is set to gain less than $10,000 annually from the assessment.
On June 20th, the Senate passed SB 1309 by a vote of 34-13. I voted in favor of this legislation because it is time to stop penalizing homeowners for moving into a specific community. Why are we going to continue to give school boards the advantage when it comes to property taxes and appeals, when the current system is not fair for everyone else? Many school districts are taking advantage of this “luxury” in order to generate additional revenue during these difficult budget years and are essentially punishing taxpayers for owning a home. The bill is now in the House Finance Committee and I encourage you to reach out to your House member and offer support for this legislation.
Preserving History of Veterans
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in partnership with Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh has launched a project designed to preserve first-hand accounts of military service by the region’s veterans. Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh is a transmedia oral history project that tells veterans’ stories in different ways by using multimedia, such as audio, video, written narratives, still photographs, animation, and more.
The project was initially created in early 2011 by Kevin Farkas, a Navy veteran, who began recording veterans’ stories as part of the Social Voice Project's Veteran Voices initiative. Its mission was simply to help local veterans capture and preserve their stories for their families. In 2012, the Social Voice Project formed a new multimedia partnership that added videography, still photography, and narrative. The newly formed project included Executive Director Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club, Chris Rolinson of StartPoint Media, Inc., and Andy Marchese of Andy Marchese Photography. After determining that the project needed an outlet to preserve and archive the captured stories, the group reached out to Soldiers & Sailors. On two days each month, preselected veterans are invited to visit Soldiers & Sailors and share their story. Their curatorial department works to provide artifacts that will help veterans revisit their service memories. The information is available for the public to view through the project’s website, on social networking, in print and on blogs. The project uses high definition technology, formatting, and techniques to enhance oral histories.
To view the materials collected to date, please visit www.veteranvoicesofpittsburgh.com. Veterans can also register to be interviewed on the site or by calling Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club at 412-623-9029.
Did You Know…
Did you know 15% of western Pennsylvanians are veterans including over 33,000 residents of the city of Pittsburgh?
Concert Benefitting Focus on Renewal
Focus on Renewal (FOR) has partnered with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) in an exciting event on June 29th. The PSO is hosting a benefit concert that evening at Heinz Hall and will be donating proceeds from ticket sales to local non-profits, including Focus on Renewal. The concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will feature cellist Gabriel Cabezas, winner of the senior division of the 2012 Sphinx Competition and R&B
Group En Vogue, who is scheduled to perform with the PSO led by Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh.
Anyone wishing to purchase tickets can call the PSO box office at 412-392-4900. When calling, you can reference Focus on Renewal and provide the code, 30314, to ensure the proceeds are directed to them. You may also order tickets online by visiting the Cultural District's website. When purchasing tickets online just enter the promotional code 30314, which will direct proceeds to Focus on Renewal. For more information on this unique event, please contact Chris Crytzer at 412-771-6460, ext. 305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio River Trail Council Hosts Bike Ride
The Ohio River Trail Council (ORTC) invites all bicyclists to ride the Armstrong Trail with them on June 30th. The ride is part of a trail ride series sponsored by the ORTC intended to bring awareness to the wonderful trails in the four-state region (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia). The 35.2-mile round trip ride will begin at the Rosston Trailhead and proceed to Mahoning, PA before returning. The ORTC is organizing carpooling for this trip and will have four meeting locations throughout the region. If you are interested in carpooling or to RSVP for the ride, please email email@example.com.
The ORTC is a PA-based non-profit whose mission is to establish, promote, protect, and preserve a multi-use trail, the Ohio River Trail. The ORTC is currently planning and developing a 41-mile bike and water trail along the Ohio River from Coraopolis to Ohioville, PA.
MWCDC Seeking Board Members
The Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) is seeking members for its Board of Directors and several committees. The Board of Directors helps guide the organization and define goals for the coming years. The MWCDC will be accepting resumes until July 31st from those interested in serving as a board member. If you are interested and would like additional information about becoming a board member, please contact Chris Beichner at 412-481-3220, ext. 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beechview Sidewalk Sale
Beechview Area Concerned Citizens are looking for vendors to participate in the Beechview Sidewalk Sale on July 14th. The Sidewalk Sale will run from 9 a.m. – 3p.m. along Broadway Avenue. If you are interested in participating please call 412-341-8768.
Science in the Summer
The Scott Township Public Library is hosting a four-day program, Science in the Summer, for children entering grades 2-6. The program will run August 13-16 and feature two afternoon sessions. The first session is for children entering grades 2, 3 and 4 and will begin daily at 12:30 with the second session beginning at 2 p.m. daily for children entering grades 4, 5, and 6.
Science in the Summer is presented by the Carnegie Science Center in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline and will offer children a first-hand look into the world of magnets, forces, and electricity. Activities will include riding on a hovercraft, experiencing the static charge of a Van de Graff generator, and making a working speaker. Students will receive safety glasses and boots to keep, and at the conclusion of the four-day program, will receive a certificate of completion. To register, please visit the library.
Learn to Swim
Allegheny County is presenting a free Learn-to-Swim Program for all residents ages 5 and over at each of the County’s four swimming facilities (Boyce Park Wave Pool, North Park Swimming Pool, Settlers Cabin Park Wave Pool, and South Park Wave Pool). If you have a last name beginning A-K, the 45-minute sessions begin on Tuesday, July 3rd and will be held once a week for four weeks on Tuesdays. For last names beginning L-Z, sessions begin on Thursday, July 5th at 10 a.m. and will run once a week for four weeks on Thursdays.
No pre-registration is required for this program. For more information, please contact one of the four parks: Boyce Park – 724-327-0338; North Park – 724-935-1766; Settlers Cabin Park – 412-787-2668; South Park – 412-831-0810.
Ingram was incorporated as a borough in August 1902 and was named after Thomas Ingram, one of the area’s first settlers. Ingram Borough was originally part of Chartiers Township, named from Chartiers Creek which flows through it and which took its name from Peter Chartiers, a noted French and Indian Trader who settled in western Pennsylvania around 1745.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana