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Mount Vernon Terrace in Waynesboro tug of war

February 21, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Mount Vernon Terrace in Waynesboro tug of war

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - In 1952, when Mount Vernon Terrace, an 82-unit public housing complex, opened in Waynesboro, an agreement between the Borough of Waynesboro and the Franklin County Housing Authority was supposed to transfer the property to Waynesboro when its construction bonds were paid off in 1997, borough officials said.

They were paid off on time. The Borough Council has hired a Philadelphia consulting firm to recommend future uses of the complex.

Among alternatives, said Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger, are selling it back to the housing authority, selling to a private owner or keeping it as is.

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"There are a multitude of options," he said.

But, Hamberger said, there's a glitch that must be resolved before the borough can do anything with the complex, if ever.

According to the original bond agreement, the borough and the housing authority had to sign the document. The borough's copy is in order, signed by the board chairman. There is mention of the agreement in the council's minutes too, Hamberger said.

The problem is there's no record that the housing authority signed off on the agreement.

Borough and authority officials and their lawyers have made fruitless searches through old land records, deeds and property transfers looking for proof that the housing authority signed the document, Hamberger said.

The housing authority takes the position that the complex will remain in its hands until the issue is resolved.

Last week the authority's governing board agreed to raise rents at the complex. The board also plans to modernize the units with some of the nearly $700,000 that has been invested from rents collected over the years after expenses, said Lauren F. Zeger, the authority's executive director.

Borough and authority officials agree that the complex has been kept in good condition, although modernization is in order.

It cost nearly $1 million to buy the seven acres it stands on and to construct the 20 apartment buildings with their one-, two- and three- bedroom units. The first tenants were mostly veterans.

Rents are not subsidized as they are in other apartment complexes controlled by the Housing Authority. One-bedroom units in Mount Vernon Terrace rent for $195 a month, two bedrooms for $237 and three-bedroom units for $273 including heat and maintenance.

Average rents for similar sized units in Waynesboro run from $350 to more than $500 a month, said Violet Schmid, a local real estate property manager.

So tenants at Mount Vernon Terrace stay for years, some almost since it opened, said Alfred T. Brisbois. Until last May Brisbois was the authority's executive director, a post he held for more than eight years. He started working for the authority in building maintenance 26 years ago, he said. He has lived in the complex since 1969.

"We haven't had 20 vacancies in the last five years. The only time tenants leave is when they die or move to a nursing home. The waiting list for apartments is never under 100," Brisbois said.

Most tenants are elderly. About 25 percent are widows living on fixed income, he said. "I can handle a rent increase, but many here can't. Maybe we made a mistake by not raising the rents over the years, but we didn't need the money," he said.

The authority is considering raising base rates to an as yet undetermined amount or charge Mount Vernon tenants 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income, Zeger said.

Tenants are not only worried about a rent hike, but the future of the complex no matter who ends up owning it, Brisbois said. Some fear it could be turned into a low-income housing unit, he said.

That's a concern shared by the owners of private homes in the south side neighborhood where Mount Vernon Terrace is located, said Allen Porter, a member of the borough council who lives close to the complex.

Brisbois said homeowners in the neighborhood are worried that their property values will drop if Mount Vernon becomes low-income.

Porter said the council wants to maintain the complex as a "nice place to live." Last week the attorney hired by the council's consultant told borough officials not to discuss the issue since it may end up in litigation, Porter said.

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