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Waynesboro Borough Council discusses affordable housing

Members voice concerns over shrinking number of owner-occupied homes

Members voice concerns over shrinking number of owner-occupied homes

May 22, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- As the housing market struggles to climb out of its latest slump, the Waynesboro Borough Council is coming up with ways to help its economically disadvantaged residents obtain affordable housing.

The council met Wednesday with representatives from Valley Community Housing Corporation and the Franklin County Housing Authority to discuss options, plans and the process for adding affordable housing in the borough for seniors and first-time home buyers.

Councilman Ronnie Martin said the discussion was the very start of the process to add affordable housing in town.

"This is in its infancy," he said. "Today was one step in many."

Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said he has long-standing concerns over the declining number of owner-occupied homes in the borough. Others, including Martin, who said he is looking at two sites in town as possible locations for affordable senior housing, see a need first for area seniors.

"Each census, it seems like the number of owner-occupied homes goes down," Hamberger said. "I would like to see us find a way to empower first-time home buyers through this."

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Bonnie Zehler, executive director of the Valley Community Housing Corp., presented the board with a variety of housing options that the borough could consider adding. They included renovated or new homes that first-time buyers could own with assistance, and housing for seniors who have too high of an annual income to qualify for Federal Housing and Urban Development housing, but not enough to live at current market rates.

Zehler said the goal of affordable housing projects is to build with no debt so rent or purchase prices can be below fair market rates.

"The goal is to have operating expenses under control so that you can charge less than fair market rates for the homes," she said.

In Franklin County, rental costs are capped for that type of housing, she said. For instance, a one-bedroom apartment would be capped at $483 per month for rent and utilities.

Zehler said the average senior in Waynesboro makes less than $12,000 per year.

Affordable housing projects are lucrative investments for some private businesses and banks, she said.

Zehler said investors fund the projects with help from state and federal programs in exchange for federal tax credits. The investors pay for the construction and become owners of the property in a limited partnership.

While the borough council is considering adding that type of housing in the future, Zehler said it first must draft a housing plan or it will not have any hope of attracting an investor to the projects.

Most lending and government grant programs require that plans for affordable housing projects be in accordance with a local government housing plan.

Without a plan, most funding would be denied, Zehler said.

The borough council asked Hamberger to look into what it would take for the borough to draft a housing plan.

Until it has a plan in place, Martin said the rest is just "dreaming."

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