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Looking for Solutions: Agencies Work to Help Housing Crunch

by on January 03, 2013 7:13 AM

In August and September, two State College mobile-home parks told residents they were closing. Also in September, fire destroyed Bellefonte’s Hotel Do De. Together, these events put about 220 more families in need of affordable housing into the already strained local market.

“We daily have people seeking affordable housing,” says Natalie Corman, director of the Centre County Office of Adult Services. “This is just a lot at once.

“Affordable housing is just what people can afford to live in,” she explains. “What I live in, it’s affordable to me. What other people live in, it’s affordable to them.”

She compares the entire housing market to a ladder, with different prices at different rungs. “The mobile homes were an affordable rung for people,” she says. “We just ripped that rung right out with these two closings.”

Monthly apartment rent in State College starts at $700 to $800, thanks partly to ongoing demand from Penn State students. At the mobile- home parks, residents were paying $330 to $360 for monthly lot rent, and many also had monthly mobile-home loan payments, putting some of them close to that monthly apartment rent.

“The fact is that, while $800 does sound reasonable, $800 in the State College area is a one- bedroom,” Corman says. “You have to look at what’s comparable, and they may need a three- bedroom because they’re a family.”

Housing costs are significantly lower outside of the State College Area School District. In 2011, the average cost of homes sold in the SCASD was $263,345, compared with an average of $107,284 in Philipsburg-Osceola and $124,519 in the Bald Eagle Area School District. However, Corman says, many lower-income workers need to live within public- transportation range of their jobs in State College.

A variety of efforts are in the works to grow the stock of affordable housing in the Centre Region:

• Formed in 1996, the Centre County Afford- able Housing Coalition has grown to more than 130 members representing 63 organizations. The group strives to ensure that all county residents, especially those with low incomes, have decent, safe, affordable, and accessible housing. The coalition’s “Yes in My Backyard” group supports the development of affordable housing in all area communities. CCAHC also sponsors a local Affordable Housing Summit each fall.

• Also founded in 1996, Centre County’s First-Time Homebuyer Program provides qualified buyers with as much as $10,000 each in a no- interest loan that doesn’t need to be repaid until the buyer resells the house.

• Limerock Terrace is a low-income housing project under construction near the East College Avenue Giant shopping center thanks to about $1 million in tax credits and $2 million construction funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

• When the Mellott Mobile Home Park closed in 2007 and developers asked Patton Township to rezone the area, the township first required that af- fordable housing be included in the project. Developers worked with Habitat for Humanity and the Centre County Housing and Land Trust to build new homes there, in the area behind what is now Trader Joe’s.

• In 2009, College Township passed an ordinance offering incentives — such as waiving the open-space requirement — to developers who add affordable housing to new neighborhoods.

• Last year, the State College Borough passed an ordinance requiring that at least 10 percent of the units be affordable housing in any new development of six or more units.

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Tracey M. Dooms is a freelance writer in State College and a contributor to Town&Gown.
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