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Program to disperse grants, loans of up to $50K to homeowners, landlords in county

Edward Mauk, Butler County Housing and Redevelopment Authority CEO, stands in front of the Terrace Apartments in Butler. Butler Eagle file photo

As part of this year’s budget, Pennsylvania legislators included a new funding source to benefit the state’s housing market while maintaining the status quo in other areas.

Folded into the state government’s budget this year came a new program, the Whole Home Repairs and Homeownership Affordability Program.

“It certainly looks like a program we’re interested in,” said Edward Mauk, CEO of the Butler County Housing Authority. “It’s another pool of funds, and it’ll add to our ability to help residents.“

The budget sets aside $125 million for the program, which will be managed by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The program sets up a fund that will annually dispense grants or loans of up to $50,000 for homeowners and small landlords. There are some restrictions that differ based on the type of applicant.

Homeowner applicants would receive the funding in grant form; however, they cannot have a household income exceeding 80% of the “area median income,” which is not well defined in the bill’s text. The applicants would also be restricted in using the funds to make their home more livable or more energy-efficient.

“The reality is more than 280,000 occupied units in Pennsylvania have moderate to severe physical inadequacies: a leaky window or a collapsing roof, blown fuses or dangerous exposed wiring, unreliable or no heating, no working toilet or failing plumbing,” said state Sen. Nikil Saval, D-1st, which covers part of Philadelphia County, in a memo attached to the bill.

“Deferred maintenance issues such as these have far-reaching societal ramifications,“ Saval’s memo continued. ”Making home repairs can reduce crime, maintain neighborhood affordability, and preserve housing to be passed on to future generations.”

For "small landlords“ the funding would come in the form of a forgivable loan. The applicant’s prerequisites are far lengthier than the homeowner’s, such as having to offer the tenant a three-year lease, having no serious landlord violations and having owned the property for 15 years or more.

One last requirement is conditional, based on the type of rental. The landlord cannot raise the unit’s rent annually by more than 3%, or if the property is lived in by a tenant participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, they have to have been living there at least 15 years.

While the program has received recognition for these types of funding options, less light has been shed on the program’s additional offering of loans and grants of up to $125,000 to entities seeking new construction of affordable multifamily housing units, which comes with its own complexities.

According to Mauk, his team is well-equipped to assist people pursue these funding options.

“We do similar programs now from different sources,” Mauk said. “This is just another avenue of funding for which we’ll be able to apply.”

Mauk said for years his housing authority has helped residents through the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program, which are grants awarded to homeowners for these exact types of repairs.

Mauk said every year they help people with projects all across the county, but they need people to apply. The application is available at www.housingauthority.com or by calling 724-287-6797.

“We target our funding based on the applications we receive,” Mauk said.

Mauk said beyond being another revenue source, he applauds the new program for its emphasis on small landlords, especially in a market where affordable rentals are becoming tougher to find.

“That’s a different wrinkle, because we don’t do that or have programs for (landlords) right now,” Mauk said. “It’s hard. It’s not an easy market to obtain rentals in.”

No increase in another fund

While Mauk applauded the budget’s inclusion of the new program, he was disappointed to see stagnation in the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) fund.

The PHARE fund collects money from natural gas impact fees and realty transfer taxes and directs them to programs addressing housing shortages.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the fund’s statewide distribution this year will be capped at the same amount as last year, $48.4 million.

“It’s always nice to see that cap increase, but that didn’t happen,” Mauk said.

According to Wolf’s announcement, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency still expects the funds to generate the rehabilitation of 249 homes, the building of 71 new single-family homes and 419 homebuyers receiving down payment or closing cost assistance, among others.

“When you look at different local organizations and their use of PHARE funding, what’s most impressive is their variety of applications to address housing needs,” said Robin Wiessmann, PHFA executive director and CEO, in a news release. “Every community has different housing priorities, and PHARE gives them the flexibility to target the money to where it can be most effective.”

Mauk said despite the lack of increase, his staff will continue to seek any and all financial tools to meet the demands of Butler County residents who need help.

“We work and specialize in affordable housing in the Butler County market,” Mauk said. “Any of these programs that help generate affordable housing at some point could be beneficial to us.”

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