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Housing market in Butler County strong

Tori and David Tompkins’ new home on Saturday afternoon. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Butler County’s net population growth of 510 people from April 2020 to July 2021 was one of the largest percentage-wise and one of only two counties to experience growth in the state in that time period. Local officials chalk it up to the region’s relatively affordable housing.

Mark Gordon, the county’s chief of economic development and planning, said the continuous development of housing, especially in the southern part of the county, shows that not only is demand growing, but suppliers are continuing to invest locally as well.

“There's still developments being built in Lancaster, Jackson, Cranberry, Adams (townships), Seven Fields,” Gordon said. “I think there's a number of reasons people are coming, but our tax structure is clearly one of them.”

Chuck Swidzinski, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, said his company sold 224 homes last year. This year, the company has closed on more than 140 houses so far he said.

According to Swidzinski, some people move to Butler County for its cheaper cost of living compared to Allegheny County.

“Allegheny County is like two and a half times higher than Butler County in property values,” Swidzinski said. “(Butler County’s) more of a bedroom community to Pittsburgh. People make the commute to work there, plus the taxes are lower in Butler.

“You can't go to many places where you can buy a house for under $100,000, but we have that in Butler.”

Gordon said renters also may move to Butler County for a lower cost of living, potentially to save up money to purchase their own property.

“With the inflationary period we are in, I think that makes house ownership for some portion of people a little restrictive,” he said. “Probably the rental market would benefit from that.”

Financial aid also is available countywide for people looking to buy property.

Ed Mauk, CEO of the Housing and Redevelopment Authorities of the County of Butler, said the housing authority received a grant for $100,000 from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability Fund, and about half of it remains. The grant is a housing assistance fund, which helps people

Six applicants so far this year received the full $5,000, Mauk said, and there are a few more applicants in the pipeline for grants.

Purchasing a house on a limited or fixed income can be difficult for first-time buyers, Mauk said.

“You've got to meet debt ratios, you need to qualify for a mortgage unless you have a large stash of money, which many people don't,” Mauk said. “If you are on a fixed income it's hard to qualify for a loan.”

Swidzinski, too, said building up enough money and credit can make applying for a loan difficult.

“You have to have around a 600 credit score or higher to be able to get a loan,” Swidzinski said. “You can get an Federal Housing Authority loan where you only need 3% of your money down, and the sellers are allowed to pay 6% of the buyer’s cost.”

Gordon said the county sends out around 105,000 tax bills to residences. He said he doesn’t want to predict how the county’s population will change in coming years, but the number of people in Butler County has been relatively consistent over the years.

He said people looking for affordable residences with good accessibility likely can find a style of living that suits them in Butler County.

“Accessibility on the highway system, with interstates and the like, you have I-79, I-80, State Route 8, Route 422 — there is a good highway system in the county,” Gordon said. “We have more manufacturing in our county than in the whole commonwealth.”

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