NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs

Bucks County
Bucks sheriff sales go online

Chester County
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program

Delaware County
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased

Montgomery County
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords

 

News Briefs Archive December 28, 2020

 

General News

State misses deadline to spend $108M in rent, mortgage relief from CARES Act
Over the summer, Pennsylvania created two new housing programs to spend $175 million it received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including $150 million for rent relief and $25 million for mortgage help. Although thousands of struggling families applied by the extended Nov. 4 deadline, the deadline to pay out all $175 million was Nov. 30, and roughly $108 million was not used, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which oversaw both programs. The program was hindered by a cap on the assistance each applicant could receive, $750 a month — significantly less than the median rent in some parts of the state. The program also required that landlords forgive any other outstanding rent above that amount. As a result, many refused to participate. The Pennsylvania legislature voted in November to redirect any remaining CARES Act funds from these and other programs to the Department of Corrections for payroll expenses for public safety and health-care employees. Click here for the full story from Spotlight PA.
Source: Spotlight PA; 12/19/2020

Happy holidays from Suburban Realtors® Alliance
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25, and Jan. 1, in observance of the holidays. The municipal database and other resources will continue to be available on the SRA website. The next edition of the weekly news briefs will be sent on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

SRA 2020 Annual Report is available online
This year has offered up unique challenges for the real estate industry. In response, the Suburban Realtors® Alliance refocused our priorities to remain attuned to critical local issues and the needs of our members. Highlights of our advocacy efforts are detailed in our 2020 Annual Report.

Bucks County

Bucks finalizes 2021 budget with no tax increase
Bucks County Commissioners approved a $469 million operating budget for 2021 that does not increase taxes. The county was able to avoid a tax increase by allocating money from the federal government to help pay for many public safety and health costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in pandemic-related expenditures had the county facing a $7.8 million shortfall for the 2021 budget. The county’s chief financial officer, David Boscola, said federal CARES Act funding "put us in a better position for next year." The Bucks County tax rate will remain at 25.45 mills — or a tax of $25.45 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/17/2020

MIRIA awards additional $12.4 million in state PFAS grants
Water providers in central Bucks and eastern Montgomery counties are getting about $12.4 million in state grants for PFAS remediation projects. Many public and private drinking water wells in Horsham, Warminster and Warrington were shuttered in 2016 after testing showed high levels of harmful PFAS chemicals. The grants, distributed by the recently created Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority (MIRIA), will be used for things like building water filtration systems, connecting homeowners to public water and reimbursing customers who paid surcharges to remove PFAS from their drinking water. In a press release, state Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) said, “Today marks the culmination of a long and often arduous but successful journey because of the tremendous collaboration and dogged determination of so many people.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/21/2020

Lower Makefield gets $3M down payment for sewer system
Aqua America Pennsylvania has paid a $3 million down payment toward purchasing Lower Makefield Township’s sewer system. The down payment is expected to help keep the township’s 2021 budget stable as it awaits approval of the $53 million purchase from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission some time next year. Township officials voted 3-1 in August to approve the sale to help pay off a $17.8 million debt related to the township-owned golf course and raise Lower Makefield's Moody's bond rating that was downgraded in 2019. Township Manager Kurt Ferguson had reported at the time that the township would likely have had to raise taxes for 2021 without the down payment.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/15/2020

Bucks jail lawsuit costs county $12M
Bucks County recently agreed to pay just over $10 million to settle class action claims that it violated the privacy of more than 10,000 former Bucks County prison inmates. The payout includes plaintiff attorney fees. On top of the settlement costs, the county also spent $2.48 million on its legal fees for the case. The total payout is less than the potential $68 million in damages the county faced after a federal jury found it violated the state’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHIRA), when it posted inmate information and mugshots on a publicly accessible website. Under the agreement, the payout for each class member will be $600.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/2/2020

Chester County 

West Chester, battling financial woes, raises taxes and takes out a loan
West Chester Borough borrowed $2.5 million to be able to pay employee salaries for December and into 2021. The loan from Santander Bank, at a 1.25% annual interest rate, will cover anticipated borough expenses until property tax revenues are collected in March. Municipalities regularly take out such loans. The borough chose not to tap into its $8 million reserve fund. Doing so would have likely impacted the borough’s interest rate when borrowing long-term. Borough officials partly blamed this year’s shortfall on the pandemic. Finance Committee Chairman and Borough Councilman Bernie Flynn pointed at a $1.5 million loss in parking revenue as a major contributing factor in the deficit. Without the loan, the borough would not have been able to pay $600,000 of December salaries. Borough staffers had originally suggested borrowing $2.2 million, but ultimately borrowed an extra $300,000 to pay, in part, for the immediate hiring of four police officers. The borough council also voted to increase the 2021 property tax millage rate from 6.52 to 6.96 mills.
Source: Daily Local; 12/18/2020

Affordable housing projects begin across county
Construction of 51 new affordable apartments and townhouses is set to begin on land adjacent to the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center in West Chester. The $14.6 million project is a partnership between Church Housing Corp., the Melton Center, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the NRP Group and finance partners. Chester County is also moving forward with more than $5.6 million in community development activities slated for 2021, including four new affordable housing developments:

  • $920,000 in funding for the Delaware Valley Development Company, to construct 61 affordable rental units for individuals in a new 62+ community called Red Clay Manor in Kennett Square Borough.
  • $800,000 in funding for Church Housing Corporation, to construct 50 affordable general occupancy rental units at a new community called Kimber Village just outside Phoenixville in East Pikeland Township.
  • $1 million in funding for The Hankin Group, to construct 50 affordable rental units for individuals in a new 62+ community called Phoenixville Senior Housing in the Borough of Phoenixville.
  • $1.2 million in funding for Ingerman Group, to construct 60 affordable general occupancy rental units in a new community called Willows at Valley Run on Business Route 30 in Caln Township.

Source: Chester County; 12/17/2020

Man pleads guilty to bilking homeowners associations
A Chester County man recently admitted to embezzling $1.8 million from close to two dozen homeowners associations in Chester and Montgomery counties between 2017 and 2018. William Huyler III’s company, East Hill Property Management, used a variety of strategies to secretly steal the money, including commingling the associations’ money with funds in his personal bank accounts and forging statements. Huyler was finally caught when one association in East Goshen Township contacted county investigators about discrepancies in the bank accounts.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/16/2020

Delaware County

Delaware County millage rates will adjust to new assessment rolls
The new assessed values for all properties in Delaware County will go into effect in 2021. In order to adjust for the new values, millage rates in the upcoming municipal, school district and county budgets are likely to be different than those seen in 2020. The Alliance staff will work to put the new millage rates in our municipal database as soon as they are available. In the database, the effective year is shown next to each tax rate.

Delco to release $4 million to help businesses hit by COVID-19 restrictions
Delaware County Council unanimously approved earmarking $4 million of CARES Act monies to provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 for businesses that were hit by the most recent virus mitigation guidelines. The program will be administered by the Delaware County Economic Development Oversight Board. On Dec. 12, Gov. Tom Wolf instituted additional health restrictions that included the prohibition of indoor dining, and indoor gym and fitness facility operations, and the temporary closure of indoor entertainment centers like movie theaters, bowling alleys, fun centers, museums, concert venues, casinos and private clubs. The order remains in effect through Jan. 4. Businesses can apply for the grants until Tuesday, Dec. 29, at the Delco Strong website. Businesses that have already received funds from any of the three Delco Strong programs automatically are qualified and don’t need to fill out a full application, although owners/operators must indicate to program facilitators that they want the funding. Those who have not previously received Delco Strong money must fill out an application and provide their federal tax returns from 2019. “The point of this is a quick-turnaround, targeted support to get them through and survive through the next few weeks,” Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said.
Source: Daily Times; 12/18/2020

Marple commissioners reject plan for Don Guanella site
Marple Township commissioners unanimously rejected the Village at Sproul Road preliminary plan for the former Don Guanella site, and in doing so saved some of their most critical comments for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The plan included 141 homes on 89 acres. Some issues considered in the commissioners’ rejection were: the requirement to have permit approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Projection prior to subdivision approval; the 250 trees to be removed are not all necessary to be removed, and those chosen for replacement are not native or suitable for long-term survival; a comprehensive traffic plan for the Route 320 corridor has not been completed; and a lack of detail on impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. Next week, the township planning commission is also evaluating two conditional use applications for the site: the first includes the construction of a day care center, medical offices, a civic/community facility and a senior living facility on 71 acres, and the second calls for building 38 residential units on 52 acres near Cardinal O’Hara High School. A conditional use is needed in both because of steep sloping.
Source: Daily Times; 12/17/2020

Concord Township considers adopting 2018 IPMC
Concord Township has continued until Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, a public hearing to consider draft Ordinance No. 397, Property Maintenance Code. The draft ordinance would adopt the 2018 International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) and apply its provisions to all properties, residential and nonresidential. The ordinance (PDF) contains the full text of the 2018 IPMC.
Source: Daily Times; 12/3/2020

Montgomery County

Montco approves 2021 budget with property tax increase
Montgomery County Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 2021 budget that includes a 5% tax increase — or about $29 more per year for the average homeowner. The board last raised taxes in 2017. The board also unanimously passed a resolution for a real estate tax deferral program. It would apply to homeowners 65 years of age or older who have an annual household income of $35,000 or less, including 50% of social security income, according to a county spokesperson. All taxes deferred under the program are secured by a real estate tax lien annually and deferred for collection until the property is sold, the owners are no longer the sole residents, or the property is transferred through will or intestacy, a county spokesperson said.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/18/2020

MIRIA awards additional $12.4 million in state PFAS grants
Water providers in central Bucks and eastern Montgomery counties are getting about $12.4 million in state grants for PFAS remediation projects. Many public and private drinking water wells in Horsham, Warminster and Warrington were shuttered in 2016 after testing showed high levels of harmful PFAS chemicals. The grants, distributed by the recently created Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority (MIRIA), will be used for things like building water filtration systems, connecting homeowners to public water and reimbursing customers who paid surcharges to remove PFAS from their drinking water. In a press release, state Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) said, “Today marks the culmination of a long and often arduous but successful journey because of the tremendous collaboration and dogged determination of so many people.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/21/2020

Montco announces restaurant-specific grant program
The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners has created a $5 million program that will help support restaurants and other food service businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Montgomery County Commerce Department and the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County will be responsible for handling the assistance coming through the MontcoStrong 2021 Restaurant Grant Program. Starting on Wednesday, Dec. 30, interested food businesses will have the opportunity to apply for $10,000 grants to cover expenses in 2021. The grant window closes on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Visit the grant program website for guidelines and eligibility.
Source: whyy.org; 12/17/2020

Man pleads guilty to bilking homeowners associations
A Chester County man recently admitted to embezzling $1.8 million from close to two dozen homeowners associations in Chester and Montgomery counties between 2017 and 2018. William Huyler III’s company, East Hill Property Management, used a variety of strategies to secretly steal the money, including commingling the associations’ money with funds in his personal bank accounts and forging statements. Huyler was finally caught when one association in East Goshen Township contacted county investigators about discrepancies in the bank accounts.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/16/2020

Philadelphia

Philly advocates push state lawmakers to adopt tiny homes building codes
Housing advocate Stephanie Sena and the organization she founded, Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, is one of the would-be developers who responded to a city request for proposals to build a village of tiny houses in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia. The RFP came out in November after city officials agreed to build the homes in negotiation with activists protesting homelessness through encampments on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Ridge Avenue. At its peak, over 200 people lived in the encampments before activists and the city brokered the deal that included the new tiny homes and 50 vacant homes that will be fixed up for habitation. All proposals are due next month, and city officials expect the project to be completed by the summer. The proposals will be reviewed by a scoring committee and then presented to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Board for consideration. The committee is made up of representatives of different city agencies. In the meantime, Sena is setting her sights on trying to make it easier for tiny houses to exist elsewhere in Philly and across the state through adopting a new regulation that would make it easier to build homes 400 square feet or less. “If legislation is passed, it streamlines the process and it makes it easier for more people to build more affordably,” Sena said. “When it comes to building codes, it’s better to be less exclusionary because it opens us to more diverse and affordable building options.” The regulation, known as Appendix Q, passed in 2018 into the international residential building code that guides the construction codes imposed by local governments. In the years since, several states, including Massachusetts and California, have adopted it into the state building code that municipalities use. In Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state, tiny houses can be burdensome to build because residences of such diminutive stature aren’t covered by the construction code.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/21/2020

Report: West Philadelphia renters face a growing risk of displacement
A growing number of West Philadelphians are facing the prospect of leaving the area as rents continue to creep up while incomes stagnate or drop. The trend is among several detailed in a new report from Third District Councilmember Jamie Gauthier’s office, the Reinvestment Fund and Urban Spatial. The report was commissioned by Gauthier in response to the growing affordability crisis facing working families in her district, which covers much of West Philly, including Mill Creek, Cobbs Creek, Mantua and University City, where incomes tend to be higher and renovated Victorians sell fast and above the list price.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/16/2020

 
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