A healthy community provides affordable housing for young families and first-time home buyers.
That’s the message delivered by Rachel Fawcett, executive director of the the Centre County Housing and Land Trust (CCHLT) during a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Downtown State College held at Toftrees.
The CCHLT was created in 2007 and the organization currently works with five partners including Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Authority of Centre County, Housing Transitions, State College Borough and the State College Community Land Trust.
The organization’s mission is the development and oversight of affordable housing for persons in Centre County, including those of low and moderate income.
Providing affordable housing in Centre County is a greater challenge than many realize, Fawcett says. “For example, the average price of a home in the State College School District is $270,000. Centre County is one of seven counties in Pennsylvania that is considered a place that is unaffordable for young families.”
The CCHLT helps first time homebuyers learn what it means to own a home, to make monthly mortgage payments and live responsibly.
The CCHLT makes home ownership a realistic goal by following a set of guidelines and procedures that make it easier to secure a mortgage.
“We maintain ownership of the land, the buyer owns the home,” Fawcett explains. “The CCHLT retains a 99-year lease on the land which allows us to make the home more affordable. The program is meant to be a stepping stone.”
The program also requires the homes to be owner-occupied and any changes to the property or structure must be approved by the CCHLT board of directors.
“And when the house is sold, the owners retain most — but not all — of the equity. The CCHLT guarantees a 1.75 percent appreciation per year. The program is designed to maintain the homes in the affordable stock and provide owners with enough equity to purchase their second home,” says Fawcett.
According to Fawcett, there are between 11,000 and 12,000 households in Centre County that are not living in affordable houses right now.
Currently the CCHLT has placed 12 families in affordable homes and has a goal of developing or preserving six homes in the next three years. The group has plans to develop Thompson Place, an area behind the Trader Joe’s shopping center.
Fawcett’ is hoping to grow the CCHLT by building up its membership and volunteer core.
“Of course we also need to have land donated to us,” she says. “We need more affordable houses in Centre County.”
Federal guidelines define affordable housing as costing roughly 30 percent of a family’s income.
“Please spread the word. People who work here in Happy Valley need places to live that they can afford,” Fawcett says. “We need more homes and we are always open to new ideas.”
Fawcett notes that while most of the housing opportunities have come from the Centre Region, the CCHLT would like to establish homes in places like Philipsburg and Bellefonte.
“Homeowners must secure a conventional mortgage. And we have lenders in State College who understand our program,” Fawcett says. “That makes it easier for the new homeowner to be placed in an affordable home.