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Pa. Senate Democrat Proposes Series of Bills to Increase Housing Accessibility

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by Marley Parish, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 23, 2023

A Pennsylvania senator has announced plans for a series of proposals to increase housing accessibility and make finding affordable housing easier by removing some barriers to renters and low-income homeowners in Pennsylvania.

The three bills sponsored by Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, would remove inaccurate eviction records from screening reports, create a database to help find affordable housing, and prohibit housing discrimination based on an arrest or conviction record.

Saval, a vocal advocate for policies that increase housing stability, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.

He helped develop the Whole-Home Repairs Program, which aims to address housing insecurity, safety, accessibility, and weatherization, saying it was “born from the notion that no one should be denied a home that is safe, a home that is healthy, simply because they don’t have the resources they need to fix them.”

The Department of Community and Economic Development opened applications for counties to apply for assistance in December, and some counties have already started to see some funding from the program.

But Saval’s efforts to increase housing accessibility and ensure fairness for renters aren’t over. 

Here’s a look at three proposals announced so far this month:

Fair Records for Renters

Saval plans to reintroduce legislation that would remove inaccurate eviction records from tenant screening reports, eliminating a possible barrier to stable housing.

“In today’s rental market, tenant screening reports serve as the gateway for individuals searching for their new home,” Saval wrote in a memo seeking legislative support. The reports include a history of someone’s eviction records.

“The minute a landlord files an eviction case against a tenant, the tenant is marked by an eviction record,” Saval said, noting that this predominantly affects Black women and families with children. “The outcome of the case does not matter. The tenant can win, settle, or have the case against them withdrawn, and the tenant will still have an eviction record for at least 10 years, and sometimes even longer.”

Under Saval’s proposal, eviction records would remain sealed unless — and until — a landlord wins their eviction case, and documents in the case would be accessible to involved parties and their attorneys for the duration of the litigation. Records would be public if a landlord wins a judgment against a tenant.

If a case is withdrawn by a landlord, ends in a settlement, or sees a tenant victory, the records would stay sealed.

“It puts no burden on landlords, credit reporting agencies, or tenant screening companies,” Saval said. “It instead ensures that any eviction records they find for a prospective tenant are accurate.”

Fair Chance Housing

Fair Chance Housing legislation, reintroduced by Saval, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit housing discrimination based on an arrest or conviction record.

The proposal is a companion to legislation authored by state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, and aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals access housing. Bullock’s bill would prevent landlords from inquiring or requiring potential tenants to disclose certain arrest records — such as juvenile records, arrests with no convictions, a conviction that’s not a felony or misdemeanor, or convictions older than seven years — as a condition of a lease.

Database for Affordable Housing

Saval and Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, have proposed establishing a publicly accessible database of affordable housing projects in Pennsylvania.

The bill, modeled on legislation adopted by New York, would require the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency — working with local housing agencies — to create a database listing all publicly financed properties in the state.

“The database will include information concerning the location of the property, the name of the owner, the anticipated termination date for affordability restrictions, and whether the affordability program or programs affecting the property can be extended,” the lawmakers wrote in a co-sponsorship memo.

PHFA would also be required to deliver annual reports to the governor and Legislature outlining the number of properties expiring in the succeeding two years.

“Pennsylvania has a variety of tools to help preserve and expand the affordable housing stock within the commonwealth,” they wrote. “But before we can use these tools at their full capacity, we need to collect and maintain the right information.”

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