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State College Borough Recognizes Need For Affordable Housing

by on November 03, 2014 10:24 PM

The State College Borough Council has worked to create more affordable housing in the borough over the past several years, but it recognizes there’s still work to be done.

Council members approved a report analyzing the biggest impediments to fair housing in State College at their meeting on Monday night. While no widespread discrimination in housing based on factors like race or religion were found in the borough, the report says there is a desperate need for more affordable housing.

The report found that over 60 percent of low-and-moderate-income residents in rental housing spend more than half of their household income on rent. For low or moderate income homeowners the numbers are even more striking, with over 70 percent spending more than half of their income on housing costs.

“This makes it sound like this is a terribly impoverished community we live in,” council president Jim Rosenberger said. “How much of that statement is based on that something like three-fourths of our community is students with low income?”

State College Borough community planner Lu Hoover, who helped prepare the report, admitted that the Penn State student population does skew these numbers. However, she said her office gets many requests from non-students and has helped find housing for over 140 families in the borough.

Council member Peter Morris also noted that graduate students, who make up a fairly large portion of the student body, fit most of the description for the working poor: they often have families, work for a small income and need housing.

“Maybe the situation is skewed a little bit, but not as much as people might think,” Morris said.

Council member Theresa Lafer said that the borough “has made real strides” on creating more affordable housing through the Centre County Affordable Housing Coalition, but that the need still exists.

The report will be submitted to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps fund several housing and community development programs in the borough.

Council also heard updates from the numerous commission and boards that work with borough staff, which have been working through the year.

Eric Boeldt, chairman of the historic resources commission, told council that the commission is working to encourage more homeowners and commercial property owners to apply for historic buildings plaques. The commission will also look into expanding the age range of buildings eligible for historic preservation. 

Boeldt also recommended that the council look into forming a historical architecture review board, noting that Bellefonte and other Pennsylvanian municipalities have such a board. Council member Catherine Dauler said she would support exploring this possibility.

Planning commission chairman Michael Roeckel said the planning commission has been working toward a comprehensive zoning update for the borough. He said the rewrite wouldn’t radically rezone the borough, but would update numerous inconsistencies across zoning areas. The planning commission will also meet with neighboring municipalities to ensure zoning consistency across borders.  

Sally Lenker of the redevelopment authority said her organization has finished planning the homestead investment program, which has been presented to council. This program allows the borough to purchase and later sell properties with the goal of diversifying neighborhoods and encouraging owner-occupied housing.

The redevelopment authority is also working on a new project that will support small businesses and entrepreneurship in the borough through matching funds and grants. Lenker said this project is still developing, but will ultimately work with area business owners and economic development agencies to continue to strengthen the State College economy.

Paul Rito of the transportation commission said increasing bicyclist safety through improved and more connected paths remains a focus of the commission. The commission will also work with the State College Area School District to offer feedback on the traffic impact of the district’s high school project, which includes new proposed traffic lights.

Several council members – including Peter Morris and Catherine Dauler – expressed interest in expanding Beaver and College Avenues into two-way streets. State College public works director Mark Whitfield said this would have to be a very long-term, intensive project involving extensive coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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