NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Senate GOP halts fixes for Pa.’s troubled rent relief program, surprising even their own

Bucks County
Falls Township issues new U&O fact sheet, but process remains too burdensome

Chester County
Chester County initiative will support families and child care providers

Delaware County
Middletown to consider update to the comprehensive plan

Montgomery County
No tax hike in Upper Pottsgrove budget draft

Philadelphia County
City council proposes 1% construction tax, but also a delay in reducing property tax abatement

 

News Briefs Archive July 6, 2020

 

General News

New nationwide flood model says U.S. is unprepared
A new, nationwide flood modeling tool from the First Street Foundation says the United States is unprepared for damaging floods, both now and in the future. First Street Foundation is a nonprofit organization that paired dozens of scientists and engineers with researchers from academic institutions, including the University of California Berkeley, George Mason University and Rutgers University. The team combined several existing models of sea level rise, riverine flooding and simulations of extreme weather events into a single, nationwide flood assessment model that examined risk in all states except Alaska and Hawaii. First Street’s newly combined model found that approximately 14.6 million homes and other structures across the country currently face a 1% annual risk of flooding, representing about one out of every 10 such real estate parcels nationwide. But First Street calculated that current maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency list just 8.7 million properties in the floodplain, a 40% undercount compared to what First Street found. Many flood experts said the discrepancy between the two models wasn’t surprising, given the limitations baked into FEMA’s calculations. The federal agency is stretched thin, struggling to keep its flood maps up to date, particularly for inland areas perceived to be less vulnerable than the coasts, experts said. The agency also only looks back at historical data to assess where flooding could strike next, leaving out current and future models that assess where else risk might exist or even be growing. The National Association of Realtors® looks forward to seeing the new data, said its president, Vince Malta. “Improving access to credible flood risk data is critical to many property owners and prospective buyers across the country and to enhancing confidence in real estate markets in various U.S. regions,” Malta said. Click here for the full article and flood mapping tools.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times/USA Today; 6/29/2020

NAR offers branding-ready COVID-19 consumer guides
The National Association of Realtors® has made available to members two consumer guides to help homeowners who are facing financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first, “Protect Your Investment,” helps homeowners who are struggling to meet their loan obligations and offers advice about working with Realtors® and housing counselors at HUD-approved agencies. It also provides information about payment options offered by lenders and tips for avoiding scams. The second guide, “Protect Your Credit,” explains the provisions implemented by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to protect consumers’ credit scores. It outlines consumers’ rights, explains how to obtain a free credit report and offers guidance on how to dispute inaccurate credit information. Both guides are available in English and Spanish versions, and they are customizable, leaving space on the cover for Realtors® and associations to add their own logos.
Source: NAR; 6/10/2020

PAR answers questions about green phase
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) recently compiled answers to common questions about doing business in the green phase, including:

  • What are the differences between yellow-phase and green-phase rules?
  • Can I still hold open house events in green phase?
  • Do we still have to use PAR’s COVID forms in green-phase counties?

One significant change in the move from yellow to green phases, which all suburban Philadelphia counties have now made, is that the yellow phase had specific guidance for the real estate industry, but that guidance does not apply in the green phase. PAR also previously published a more comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about a wider range of topics relating to COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: PAR; 6/26/2020

Bucks County

Neshaminy School District passes budget with tax increase
The Neshaminy School Board approved a $187 million final budget for 2020-2021 that includes a 1.5% tax increase. The property tax increase equates to 2.5 mills, or $69 in additional annual taxes for a resident with a property assessed at the district average of about $27,500. The increase lifts total millage to 165.6, or $4,568 in annual taxes for the average property owner. The final 2020-2021 budget has no cuts to educational programs, and the total of $5 million it sets aside for technology is about 5% more than the 2019-2020 school year that ended Tuesday, said Superintendent Rob McGee. The budget passed by a narrow 5-4 vote, with several board members expressing concern about a tax increase when so many residents are experiencing economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus. A slim majority of board members felt the tax increase was needed to help handle mounting expenses, especially unforeseen ones caused by the pandemic. The district will use $1.3 million of its fund balance to cover a deficit between expenses and revenues.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/30/2020

Lower Makefield votes to advertise overlay district plans
Lower Makefield supervisors voted Thursday to advertise a “mixed-used overlay district” that could pave the way for a Wegmans, retail space and 200 apartments around a 36-acre property dubbed “Prickett Run at Edgewood” across from Shady Brook Farm near the Newtown Bypass. The development proposal includes the preservation of a historic building and barn on the property. Residents will have the opportunity to review the zoning proposal before supervisors vote on the plan at the end of a 45-day advertising window. The planning commission will review and make recommendations on the plan in the meantime. If the overlay is approved, a development plan would still need to be submitted to the township. Click here for more information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/30/2020

Morrisville school budget hikes taxes
The Morrisville School Board approved a $22.5 million budget for 2020-2021 that includes a 2.79% tax increase. The 6.146 mill increase pushes the total millage to 225.9709 mills, or $4,157 in annual taxes for a property assessed at the school district average of $18,400. The total increase amounts to $113 more than last year for the average property. Board members said they understood the burden on taxpayers, but the increase was necessary to retain staff and programs while boosting the district’s dwindling savings account. Officials also anticipate additional spending related to the coronavirus pandemic once students return on Sept. 8.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/25/2020

Pennsbury seeks input on school reopening
Pennsbury School District administrators are seeking community input as the district plans to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. The district has created a survey seeking input from the community on the reopening of schools. The survey can be found here. It will be available until July 5.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/26/2020

Chester County 

County to help fund two affordable housing projects
Chester County will assist in the creation of affordable housing projects in two of its thriving urban communities. County commissioners approved contracts totaling more than $1.7 million to begin construction on the Melton Center Apartments in West Chester and Red Clay Manor in Kennett Square. “By adding affordable homes to areas like West Chester and Kennett Square, we are promoting diverse, well-rounded communities and strengthening our urban center offerings,” said Pat Bokovitz, the head of the Chester County Department of Community Development. Someone who is in need of affordable housing is defined by the county as a person with income at or below 60% of the area’s median income. Bokovitz said that translates to a single person living in the county making $40,620 a year or less, and a family of four with income of $57,960 or less. The rents paid should equal somewhere between 30 and 35% of the person’s income. The county has designated $850,000 toward construction of the Melton Center Apartments, which should be completed by September 2021. Melton Center will provide 51 affordable townhouse and apartment rental units in the Borough of West Chester on Market, Manor and Worthington Streets. The Red Clay Manor project will receive $920,000 in county funds and should open by the end of 2021. It will add 60 affordable rental apartments for seniors.
Source: Daily Local News; 6/30/2020

New aid available for Chester County renters, homeowners
With the state ban on evictions set to expire on July 10, a new program will help Chester County residents financially impacted by the pandemic stay in their homes. Beginning July 6, renters and homeowners can apply for financial assistance to avoid homelessness, said Dale Gravett, executive director for the Housing Authority of Chester County. Anyone who lost income due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown may be eligible for rent or mortgage assistance through the program. The funding comes from the federal CARES Act. "If [Chester County residents] are in arrears in rent from March 1 on, they may be eligible for rental assistance up to $750 a month for six months," Gravett said. Homeowners who became unemployed after March 1 or who suffered at least a 30% reduction in annual income may be eligible for up to $1,000 a month for six months. Full eligibility requirements and applications for both rent and mortgage assistance are accessible on the PHFA homepage.
Source: Daily Local News; 6/30/2020

Westtown to hold indoor meeting on Crebilly development proposal
The Westtown Township Planning Commission will hold a meeting on Wednesday, July 8, to discuss Toll Brothers’ updated plan to build 319 homes at Crebilly Farm. The meeting is likely to be the last time the commission examines Toll’s plan to develop the 322-acre historic site prior to township supervisors revisiting the matter. The township and preservation activists have sparred with the developer over the proposed development for years. In 2019, Commonwealth Court affirmed a lower court decision against the developer, stating that Toll failed to meet the requirements for a conditional use application to build the 319 homes. The July 8 planning commission meeting will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the Marian Anderson Music Center on the campus of Cheyney University, 1882 University Circle, Thornbury. The meeting agenda lists plan revisions, traffic information, formal recommendations to supervisors and a vote by planners on a motion for the Toll Brothers proposed subdivision.
Source: Daily Local; 7/1/2020

West Chester Borough considers zoning amendment for university
West Chester Borough Council will discuss and may adopt an ordinance that would rezone several pieces of land owned by the state in the West Chester University campus. The ordinance would add to the borough zoning map a new Planned University Campus (PUC) district and include new definitions for terms like student housing that are consistent with the new district. The draft ordinance will be considered at a virtual meeting on Tuesday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. via the WebEx platform. A summary of the ordinance (PDF) and a link to the virtual meeting can be found on the borough website.
Source: Daily Local; 6/30/2020

Delaware County

Springfield schools increase taxes by 2.25%
The Springfield School Board approved the 2020-2021 general fund final budget of $88.1 million with a 2.25% tax increase, a reduction from the proposed 2.6% increase in earlier budget discussions. The tax levy was approved at 34.4827, an increase of 0.76 mills. A property assessed at the median value of $147,020 will have a bill of $5,070, reflecting a $129 increase. The board also approved a 30-day extension for 2020-2021 school real estate taxes. The 2% discount will extend to Sept. 30, and the face-value payment deadline will move to Nov. 30. Payments received after Nov. 30 will incur a 10% penalty.
Source: Daily Times; 6/29/2020

Garnet Valley's 1% tax increase is lowest in 20 years
The Garnet Valley School Board approved a 2020-2021 budget totaling $112.8 million, with a property tax millage rate of 33.4028 mills for Chester Heights or Concord townships, and 33.7842 in Bethel Township, due to the latter’s sponsorship of Delaware County Community College. The new rates reflect an increase of 1% over the current year, marking the lowest district real estate tax increase in over 20 years. The budget draws $970,000 from district savings to keep the millage increase lower than surrounding districts, said district business director Chris Wilson.
Source: Daily Times; 6/29/2020

Guidelines in place as county government reopens
The Delaware County Government Center reopened to the public on June 29 with its normal business hours, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The county has been working with the Chester County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to implement best practices to protect employees and the public. Employees and visitors will have their temperatures checked and be screened before entering county buildings. They must also wear masks and observe social distancing of at least six feet. Delaware County Council will continue to hold agenda and public meetings online. The Delaware County Court of Common Pleas has suspended jury trials until July 31. More information is available on the county website.
Source: Delaware County; 6/2020

Chadds Ford posts draft of ‘good neighbor’ ordinance
Chadds Ford Township supervisors have posted a proposed “good neighbor” property maintenance ordinance on the township website for public review. The intention is to establish a property maintenance code "that adequately protects public health, safety and welfare" and includes "a variety of minimum level maintenance requirements for the exterior elements of all existing buildings,” including residences. Supervisors have said that the code would not involve municipal inspectors entering private residences. The draft ordinance addresses sidewalks and driveways, and vegetation like bamboo. It also addresses pest infestations and inoperable motor vehicles and boats. Read more here.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 7/1/2020

Concord, Chadds Ford conduct commercial corridor survey
Concord and Chadds Ford townships are working together to determine how Route 1 (Baltimore Pike) and Route 202 can be better utilized for regional travel to shopping, entertainment and employment. The municipalities are seeking public input via a short online survey, which takes about five minutes to complete. “A grant from Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission gives us an opportunity to ask how these two roadways can better support local trips,” the survey says. “The goal is that over time, investments in paths, sidewalks, tree canopy, trail connections, and the occasional bus shelter, trail head and bike rack, will provide viable non-motorized options for getting around that residents, employees and visitors appreciate and enjoy.” Click Here to take the survey.
Source: Concord Township; 6/2020

Montgomery County

Lansdale to adopt comprehensive plan
Lansdale Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, July 15, at 7 p.m. via Zoom to review and consider for adoption the Lansdale 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Members of the public wishing to listen/participate must register ahead of time by emailing feedback@lansdale.org or calling 267-638-9345 Monday through Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Members of the public may also submit questions/comments related to the Lansdale 2040 Comprehensive Plan, including their name and address, to feedback@lansdale.org no later than Wednesday, July 15, at 4:30 p.m. The comprehensive plan contains information concerning population, housing, existing land uses, economic development, community resources, circulation and transportation in the borough. The plan proposes a future vision and land use plan with goals, a map and plan implementation measures. A copy of the Lansdale 2040 Comprehensive Plan can be viewed on the Lansdale Borough website.
Source:  The Reporter; 6/29/2020

Building boom continues in Conshohocken
Construction of a 304-unit apartment complex at 51 Washington St. has begun in Conshohocken. The complex is a quarter-mile from Fayette Street, the main street running through downtown, and close to the train station. The one-square-mile borough bordering the Schuylkill River is already bustling with commercial and residential development. Not all residents are happy, however, and some complain that new high-end commercial and real estate properties have caused an increase in living costs over the past several years. The average rent in Conshohocken was $1,556 in March 2017, and grew to $1,638 in February 2020, according to the national apartment listing service RentCafe. The national average in March 2017 was $1,337 and $1,468 in February 2020. The borough’s average rent price closely compared to Philadelphia’s, at $1,652.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/25/2020

Norristown adopts school budget, announces tax rebate program
The Norristown Area School Board approved a $163.7 million final budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The budget was passed with a millage rate of 39.204 mills — a 3.3% tax increase that will add about $163 to the average property tax bill. Click here for the final budget presentation (PDF). In May, the school board approved a property tax rebate program that will provide a discount up to $130 for certain homeowners. To qualify for this discount, applicants must have a household income of no more than $35,000 annually and fall into one of the following categories:

  • be 65 years of age or older
  • be a widow and widower aged 50 years of age or older
  • be permanently disabled and 18 years of age or older.

Click here for more information about the tax rebate program.
Source:  Times Herald; 6/24/2020

Montco coronavirus response fund for nonprofits surges to $750K
A program to support local relief efforts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak raised about $750,000 through June 19 to assist Montgomery County nonprofit organizations, according to county officials. “This is up $150,000 from my last report in mid-May. I’d like to thank all the local foundations, businesses and private citizens who have contributed,” County Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. said during a recent news briefing. The fund provides grants to nonprofit organizations with a successful track record of serving the needs of vulnerable county residents. Money is distributed through emergency grants to support local nonprofits working with residents most impacted by COVID-19. Residents can donate directly to the relief fund, and more funds are urgently needed to support the ongoing efforts, officials said. Click here to contribute to the fund or to apply for grants.
Source: Times Herald; 6/30/2020

Philadelphia

Small Philadelphia landlords can apply for loans to offset missed rent due to pandemic
Philadelphia is partnering with a community development financial institution to offer loans of up to $10,000 for small landlords in low-income areas. The unsecured loans are meant to cover some of landlords’ costs while their tenants can’t pay rent because of the pandemic. Landlords with 15 or fewer residential rental units have until Tuesday, July 7, at 5 p.m. to apply. Approvals are based on need. Small landlords own nearly half of all licensed rental units in Philadelphia but have been largely shut out of programs meant to help small businesses get through the pandemic. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/1/2020

City deed analysis reflects the challenges facing low- and moderate-income home buyers
According to an analysis of deed transactions released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the share of lower-priced homes bought with mortgages has dropped significantly over the past decade. At the same time, home sale prices have doubled in Philadelphia. From 2008 to 2018, the share of mortgage-backed home sales in the lower-priced half of Philadelphia’s residential market dropped from 46% to 35%, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Click here for the full analysis. Nationally, a lack of financing for homes under $70,000 is an obstacle for aspiring homeowners with lower incomes. Philadelphia’s mortgage approval rate is below national averages for both conventional and Federal Housing Administration mortgages. Mortgage approval rates tend to be lower in areas that are majority people of color than in areas with mostly white residents, even when controlling for income. Neighborhoods with more moderately priced homes are generally ones with larger numbers of people of color. Obtaining a small-dollar mortgage generally is more difficult than a larger-dollar one. A bill that passed the U.S. House and is before a Senate committee would require a review of the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance policies to study their effects on small-dollar mortgage lending. Small-dollar mortgages have significantly higher denial rates, even when accounting for credit scores, the Urban Institute found in a 2018 study. Click here to read the full Philadelphia Inquirer article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/29/2020

 
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