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 March 29, 2021

 

General News

Deadline extended for low-interest loans for Tropical Storm Isaias flooding
Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved his request to extend the deadline for low-interest disaster loans related to damage from Tropical Storm Isaias. The storm caused devastating flooding and damage in early August 2020 in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties. The SBA extended the deadline until April 19. Low-interest loans of up to $200,000 are available to homeowners and renters to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, and SBA regulations also permit loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged personal property, including vehicles. Businesses and nonprofits can borrow up to $2 million for losses and damage. SBA has opened a Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center to verify eligible locations and help survivors apply online using an electronic loan application, available here.
Source: Lower Bucks Times; 3/17/2021

Free trash bags, gloves offered for neighborhood cleanups
Pick Up Pennsylvania, the state’s annual community improvement initiative, offers registered participants free trash bags, gloves and safety vests through May 31 or while supplies last. Eligible events can include litter cleanups, illegal dump cleanups, community greening and beautification, special collections and public education events. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association are sponsoring trash disposal, free of charge or at a reduced rate, for registered program participants at participating landfills during the month of April, with prior approval. Each year, Pick Up Pennsylvania volunteers remove an average of 7 million pounds of trash and tires from roads, waterways, parks, trails and other shared public spaces. To join or host an event, or to inquire about free supplies and trash disposal, visit the Great American Cleanup of PA website.
Source: Daily Times; 3/22/2021

Sunshine week celebrates open government
Last week was Sunshine Week, celebrating open government. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law, passed in 1986, requires governmental bodies to discuss and take official action in public meetings. In 1993, it was strengthened to allow public comment at meetings. In 1998, another change gave the public the right to comment before official action was taken. Each of these important protections provides accountability and transparency to the public. Read more about the Sunshine Law on the state Office of Open Records website.

Plan for regional vaccine site concerns local officials
Elected officials in four southeastern Pennsylvania counties expressed concerns about the state’s plans to open a regional site to distribute the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine instead of considering a request to allocate the vaccine directly to each of the four counties. In a joint statement issued by officials from Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks counties, elected leaders said they are “extremely disappointed” that the Pennsylvania Department of Health is not considering their request. “We have reiterated our concerns about establishing a regional PEMA [Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency] site for many reasons, and we remain deeply concerned that equitable distribution will be compromised at such a site,” the county leaders wrote.
Source: Daily Local; 3/22/2021

Schuylkill River Trail named third-best river walk in America
The Schuylkill River Trail placed third in the river walk category of USA Today’s annual 10 Best Contest, behind Detroit International RiverWalk and the Wilmington [North Carolina] Riverwalk. USA Today looked at river walks because, "in recent decades, cities across the United States have been revitalizing their river fronts, transforming them into vibrant spaces for outdoor recreation, nightlife, cultural activity and scenic views.” More than 75 miles of the Schuylkill River Trail exist in sections across five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania. The trail runs 30-plus miles between Philadelphia and Parker Ford, Chester County, then continues with some breaks and on-road routes to near Hamburg, Berks County. The pathway will extend 120 miles to Frackville, Schuylkill County, when completed.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 3/3/2021

Bucks County

Bucks County launches new Rental Assistance Program
Bucks County unveiled the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance program (BERA), which will use $37 million in federal funds to help both renters and landlords who are facing financial difficulties due to income losses during the pandemic. The money can be used to pay rent and utility bills. Bucks tenants who have lost income or experienced other financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 are encouraged to apply for rent/utility assistance on the BERA webpage. Renters can apply for assistance in paying rental arrears and upcoming rent. Landlords are also encouraged to apply by submitting tenant information, a valid W-9 and ledgers outlining arrears owed. However, a landlord application cannot be completed without tenant’s participation in establishing tenant eligibility. Landlords will be contacted to confirm approved payment amounts prior to payment being issued. Click here (PDF) for a printable flyer. BERA is a partnership between Bucks County and its Housing Link partners, including the Bucks County Opportunity Council, Bucks County Housing Group, the YWCA of Bucks County and Legal Aid of Southeastern PA.
Source: Bucks County press release; 3/17/2021

Recap: SRA, BCAR host Bucks Commissioners Town Hall
The Bucks County Association of Realtors and the Suburban Realtors Alliance held a live town hall with the Bucks County Commissioners on Friday, March 19. The commissioners gave a general update on the state of the county, including details of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and discussed real estate issues — including the new rental and utility assistance program, and housing affordability. Click here for more information or to watch a recording of the town hall.

County tax abatement approved for Perkasie redevelopment project
The Bucks County Commissioners recently approved a tax abatement deal for a developer’s plan to redevelop an old factory in Perkasie. The Moser Group plans to redevelop a blighted automotive gear factory into 98 apartments and build 10 townhomes on a second parcel next to the factory. The project is expected to cost $20 million. Moser expects construction of the townhomes to begin in March, but the renovation of the factory into apartments could take up to two years. Stephen Barth, director of economic development for Perkasie, said both Perkasie Borough Council and the Pennridge School Board approved the 10-year abatement through a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/19/2021

Chickens and bees are not allowed on most Middletown properties
Middletown Township recently reminded residents that chickens and bee boxes are not permitted on most properties. Chapter 500 of the Middletown Township Code of Ordinances states that they are only permitted on properties larger than 10 acres in the Residence Agriculture zoning district, or zones RA-1, RA-2 and RA-3. Click here for more information.
Source: Middletown Township; 3/2021

Bucks County Herald converted to nonprofit status
The Bucks County Herald is now owned by the Bucks County Herald Foundation, a new nonprofit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a public charity. The Bucks County Herald newspaper has been owned and operated by the Wingert family for the past two decades. The decision to become a nonprofit came after advertising revenue fell sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to become a nonprofit, Wingert family members elected to donate their ownership of the company to the Bucks County Herald Foundation. Bridget Wingert said, “We believe our readers want and deserve a local newspaper. As a nonprofit organization, we are securing the future of nonpartisan and truly local journalism in our community for years to come.” Click here for more.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/18/2021

Chester County 

New LLC ‘flipping’ activity could lead to missing local construction permits, higher assessment amounts
During the past few years, the Chester County Assessment Office has observed an increase in the number of LLCs purchasing residential properties and making significant improvements without filing requisite permit(s) with the local municipality. These properties are then quickly ‘flipped’ to buyers who may be unaware of the missing construction permits. Based on this trend, assessment staff has begun a policy of reviewing all property transfers involving LLCs. This review process includes looking at possible MLS listings, comparing the information (including photos) to the existing property record card for discrepancies, and performing a field visit by the assigned assessor. These non-permitted improvements, such as finished basements, additional bathrooms or other additions, can lead to an Assessment Change Notice being sent by the county to the new owner. The new assessment change can lead to higher property tax bills from the county, municipality and school district. The Suburban Realtors Alliance is aware of this new policy in Chester County, and is working with county officials to learn more about the parameters of the program. We are sharing our concern with the county that this type of practice could lead to the unintended consequence of creating inconsistent assessment amounts for similar properties in the same area. In the meantime, we want our member Realtors to be aware of this practice to ensure that their clients are protected in situations where there may be a higher risk that municipal construction permits are missing. 

Penn Township secures $1.26M in park grants
Penn Township was awarded a total of $1.26 million in 2020 through several grant programs for the development of a sports park. The funds will be used for the outdoor classroom, trails, the extension of a parking area, the park entrance, a playground and other recreational features. In 2016, Penn Township supervisors purchased the 43 acres that will house the sports park from Star Roses.
Source: Penn Township Newsletter; Spring 2021

West Chester Planning Commission posts vacancy
The Borough of West Chester is seeking a resident to fill a recent vacancy on the planning commission.   The role of the commission is to advise borough council on planning and zoning matters. The planning commission meets the last Tuesday of each month and the Monday of the week prior, at 6:30 p.m. At this time, all meetings are virtual. For additional information, visit the planning commission website. Applicants should send a letter of interest and resume by Friday, April 2, to danad@west-chester.com. Interviews will be held at the Tuesday, April 20, borough council meeting.
Source: West Chester Borough; 3/24/2021

'Kennett Blooms' will make borough more attractive for diners, tourists
Historic Kennett Square (HKS) is launching a new project called Kennett Blooms. According to HKS executive director Bo Wright, Blooms will focus on three main elements: the installation of several placemaking projects; coordinating outdoor dining and street closures; and adding plantings throughout town to complement and augment the hanging baskets and planters. Bringing back the popular West State Street parklet will be a key part of the Kennett Blooms initiative, and HKS also hopes to build another parklet outside Square Pear Gallery. In addition, there will be new wayfinding signage for visitors. Kennett Square residents and visitors alike embraced initiatives like the street closures and the parklet in 2020 because they offered welcoming outdoor spaces to gather safely.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 3/24/2021

Delaware County

Delco rental assistance applications open April 1; prepare now, county says
Delaware County has created a website for tenants and landlords interested in applying for the Emergency Assistance Rental Program (ERAP). Applications won't be accepted until April 1, but pre-registration is available at the Delco ERA website. A hotline at 484-729-4200 is expected to be operational soon, and an in-person application process is also planned. Delaware County Council hired Philadelphia-based Capital Access Inc. to administer the $37 million that the county will receive for the ERAP from federal and state sources. The money is geared to provide six months of rent, plus utilities, for those having trouble paying their rent or facing eviction. County officials indicated there were 800 to 1,000 ejectment proceedings in the Common Pleas and magisterial courts and anticipated that this program could help approximately 5,000 county renters overall. Delaware County solicitor William Martin recommended that potential applicants file their 2020 federal tax returns to prepare. “Part of the program involves an income verification step because you need to be below 80% of adjusted median income to be qualified,” Martin said. An executed lease document is also helpful for the process. In addition to rent, the program will fund the largest past-due utility bill for any particular applicant.
Source: Daily Times; 3/24/2021

SRA pushes back on Upper Darby’s ID requirement for resale applications
Upper Darby Township updated its resale application on March 15 to require a copy of photo identification from both buyers and sellers. The Suburban Realtors Alliance has heard from a number of agents and brokers who were surprised and dismayed by the new requirement. In response to the new requirement, the Alliance sent a letter (PDF) to township leaders expressing opposition to the ID requirement and listing concerns about it — including privacy and security concerns regarding sensitive personal information. The Alliance will continue to update members as to any changes relating to this policy.

Delco employees’ salaries to get $2.2M boost
Starting in June, Delaware County employees will get a $2.2 million pay raise through a new formal compensation structure. County council unanimously approved the compensation structure recommended by McGrath Human Resources Group with a full implementation date of June 1. In December 2019, the county hired McGrath to study the compensation of court and county employees, following Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders Jr.’s request to increase his deputies’ salaries by $5 an hour due to retention and recruitment issues. According to county personnel director James Kane, the $2.2 million had been included and approved in the 2021 county budget, including a 1% overall salary increase for nonunion employees that was put into effect Jan. 1 and a 2% allowance for adjustments in line with the compensation study. Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said, “We are desperate for this. ... We have more than a third of our current workforce eligible for retirement, and we have a system in place that is not attractive. It’s not attractive to people coming in because it’s scattershot and the lower rank positions are very often underpaid. If we want to be the county we want to be, this is exactly what we need to be doing, as painful as it is.” There are about 3,000 county employees.
Source: Daily Times; 3/20/2021

Delco sheriff warns of phone scam
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release warning residents of scammers posing as sheriff’s deputies who are directing people to buy gift cards or prepaid money cards in order to avoid arrest. “Do not withdraw money, buy pre-paid money or gift cards ever for this,” the release says. “If you receive this type of call, hang up! The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office will never contact anyone by telephone and ask for payment of any kind to avoid arrest, ever!” Generally, the caller will inform the target that they may be subject to arrest and will request a payment of some type as a bail or bond. The actual Sheriff’s Office number may even appear on the caller ID through the use of “spoofing” technology.
Source: Daily Local; 3/18/2021

Montgomery County

Montco launches Rent and Utility Relief Program
Montgomery County Commissioners announced the return of a funding program to help renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19. The Rent and Utility Relief Program, administered by Your Way Home, allows eligible households to receive up to 12 months of assistance for rent and utility bills dating back to March 13, 2020. Assistance can be for past due rent and/or utility payments or future rent payments. Funding for security deposits, first and/or last month of rent is also available as part of the program. There is no financial limit on the amount of assistance a household can receive. The county has over $55 million allocated for the program through a combination of state and federal funding.
Source: Montgomery County press release; 3/2021

Limerick supervisors see another plan for land near Costco
Limerick Township supervisors got a look at a third plan to develop property on Lightcap and Evergreen roads across from the Costco and Chick-fil-A. The current iteration of the plan calls for 38,000 square feet of commercial space and 273 units of one- and two-bedroom housing in 21 buildings. In 2011, a plan was proposed for 244,000 square feet of commercial space and 300 residential units, and a 2014 revision had 260,000 square feet of commercial space. The zoning hearing board will review the current proposal at the end of the month, and the plan will then head back to the supervisors at the Tuesday, April 6, meeting.
Source: Times Herald/Digital Notebook Blog; 3/23/2021

PECO discovers unauthorized street light electric hookups in Narberth
Narberth’s interim borough manager, Matt West, recently informed borough council that about 80 streetlights in the downtown area were connected to the electrical grid through unauthorized connections. A contractor performing a pole replacement found a connection from PECO’s line to a conduit going underground and then feeding the borough’s lights. The illegal connection likely happened about 20 years ago during a streetscape project and, since then, the borough has been getting free electricity on the downtown streetlights. Lights are out on half a block of Forrest Avenue because PECO has not authorized the reconnection of the illegal connection. PECO will not force disconnection of the other illegally wired lights because it is a public safety issue, but has asked the borough to work on a fix as soon as possible. The fix is estimated to cost about $80,000.
Source: Main Line Media News; 3/17/2021

Lower Merion approves tax break for firefighters, EMS volunteers
Lower Merion commissioners approved the annual property tax rebate program for members of the township’s fire and EMS companies. The program allows qualifying members to apply to receive a rebate on their township property taxes. The program does not affect county or school district taxes. The program was first approved in November 2017, and members were first eligible in 2018. Last year, 30 volunteers qualified for the program that reimbursed over $5,000 to them. This year, the township budgeted $6,000, and 38 volunteers met the criteria.
Source: Main Line Media News; 3/18/2021

Philadelphia

Rent has increased the most in the least expensive areas, Zillow report finds
In the Philadelphia area, rents in the highest-priced zip codes rose about 1% on average in February compared to the same time last year. But rents rose about 5% in the lowest-priced zip codes. “This past year saw widespread adoption of work-from-home policies, especially for higher-income renters who previously paid top dollar for proximity to their workplace,” Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker said. “Demand for these rentals took a hit as many leapt into home ownership, while the flow of new renters entering these sub-markets dried up, at least temporarily.” Tenants across the country and in the Philadelphia area are struggling to pay their rent after losing jobs or hours because of the pandemic. The nationwide eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire at the end of March. More pandemic rental assistance is coming to tenants nationwide as states and counties begin distributing federal funds in the latest COVID-19 relief package.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/21/2021

Opinion: Philly needs more housing — not more rules limiting builders
Housing advocates Benjamin She and Chi-Hyun Kim argue in Plan Philly that proposed zoning changes advancing in city council would undermine the city’s comprehensive planning process and harm the basic housing needs of Philadelphians. Specifically, they cite Councilmember Cherelle Parker’s opposition to accessory dwelling units and decreased minimum lot sizes, and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s amendment to bar development entirely in the 19146 ZIP code. “Mayor Kenney must respond decisively to this new frontier in Councilmanic prerogative, and veto bills 210078 and 210075 with the intention of seeing the District-specific and 19146 overlay regulations removed,” they write. She and Kim are members of 5th Square’s housing committee, which focuses on zoning and land use issues affecting housing affordability, stability and abundance across Philadelphia. Read the full essay here.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/22/2021

Philly DA busts deed theft ring for alleged heist of 10 homes
The Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney’s Office (DAO) announced charges against five individuals in an alleged deed theft ring, one of the first major prosecutions over an issue that has plagued Philadelphia for years. Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Esack, from the office’s economic crimes unit, said a couple — Richard Harris Bey and Dineisha Harris Bey, a notary — allegedly conspired to transfer the ownership of 10 North Philadelphia rowhouses into their own names or those of other individuals. “It causes the victims or their families to not only suffer the loss of that property, but also the legal burden of trying to get that property back,” Esack said. None of the homes were occupied at the time of the fraudulent transfers. But District Attorney Larry Krasner said the alleged thieves sought to flip or lease the homes for profit. According to the DAO, deed theft is a growing problem in Philadelphia, particularly in neighborhoods with residents who are on the lower end of the income spectrum, owing to a myriad of issues, including historical property abandonment, poor recordkeeping and tangled title issues, and the city’s increasingly lucrative real estate market. Typically, fraudsters focus on neglected homes with elderly or deceased owners, where unauthorized transfers are less likely to be noticed.
Source: Plan Philly; 3/22/2021

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