Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Fannie, Freddie loan limits announced for 2021; NAR urges access to safe, affordable financing
Weeks left for Bucks COVID-19 Mortgage Assistance Program
Chester County Recorder’s office temporarily closed, but services continue
Recorder of Deeds system disrupted by hack
SEPTA maintains commitment to King of Prussia Rail project
Philly is set to create a new construction tax and cut a big property tax break
NAR board approves new personal conduct policy addressing discrimination
The Board of Directors for the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) voted Nov. 13 in favor of a motion presented by NAR's Professional Standards Committee making it a violation for Realtors® to use harassing or hate speech toward any of the protected classes under Article 10 of NAR's Code of Ethics. Those include race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Professional Standards Committee recommendations come as NAR works to reaffirm its commitment to fair housing and position its members to lead America's real estate industry in the fight against discrimination and inequality. Following months of meetings and deliberations, NAR's Advisory Board recommended that its Code of Ethics apply to every action a Realtor® takes, whether personal or professional. Any complaint alleging a violation of Article 10 as illustrated by Standard of Practice 10-5 can now be brought to a hearing panel at a local Realtor® association, which will be asked to assess the circumstances of each individual case. Read the press release about the board's vote and view more information about the changes, including a FAQ, on the NAR website. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® will hold a Facebook Live discussion of the policy changes on Friday, Nov. 20, at 9 a.m.
Pa. imposes broader mask mandate to stem a surge in hospitalizations
Pennsylvania’s top health official has issued a broader mask mandate, strongly encouraging people to wear face coverings as coronavirus case numbers continue to soar. Imposing new rules to combat the surge without ordering shutdown-style restrictions, Health Secretary Rachel Levine ordered that people wear masks when they are with anyone outside their own households, and she directed that anyone entering from out of state must get tested for the coronavirus within 72 hours of arriving. She also told colleges and universities to implement and enforce testing and quarantine procedures, and urged the commonwealth’s hospitals to “prepare now” for the possibility of being strained or even overwhelmed as soon as December. More than 9,300 deaths in the state have already been blamed on the virus. If the state and public do not follow measures to quash the spread, Levine warned, Pennsylvania could run out of intensive-care beds in December and reach 12,000 total virus-related deaths by January and 18,000 by March. The new face-mask rule extends to private homes if visitors are present; it also applies to every indoor facility, from schools to gyms to public transit, and applies even when people are social distancing. People, businesses or facilities that do not comply can be given warnings or citations by law enforcement or the state health department. Levine also said business owners would be responsible for asking employees and customers to follow the order.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/17/2020
Some campaign lawn signs can be recycled
Election Day has come and gone, and campaign signs are being plucked from lawns and medians. The signs can often be recycled, though it’s not always as easy as placing them into regular curbside recycling bins. Things like plastic film signs and metal stands can cause damage to the sorting equipment at recycling facilities — or even injure workers. And corrugated plastic signs are often sorted in with cardboard, which contaminates batches of that material and complicates the recycling process. But plastic film signs, for example, may be able to be recycled along with shopping bags at grocery stores. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/12/2020
Luxury apartments proposed for Doylestown Shopping Center
A 200-unit luxury apartment community is the latest in a flurry of mixed-use and residential communities proposed for Doylestown Borough. The developer is looking to construct a five-story, 200-unit luxury apartment community with a five-story parking garage at the Doylestown Shopping Center, located at 444 N. Main St. The proposal includes landscaped pathways, a fitness center and common recreation areas, all surrounding a courtyard with a pool. The estimated price tag is $50 million. Sean Sablosky, a partner with The Robbins Company, which is working with BET Investments on the project, said the overlap of baby boomers, millennials and young professionals searching out walkable communities, and shopping centers looking to fill storefronts amid a declining brick-and-mortar retail market, is a trend that is “inescapable.” Doylestown Borough officials said there are many issues to consider before the project could move ahead — the most important being the impact on traffic.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/13/2020
Bensalem voters nix emergency squad funding in referendum
Bensalem residents voted down a proposal that would increase taxes by one mill to support the township’s nonprofit rescue squad with dedicated funding. Voters were asked if they supported the tax hike for “the operation and maintenance of ambulance and rescue squads.” The funding would have provided the squad with $650,000 and increased the average property owner’s tax bill by $21. The unofficial election results have the vote count at 17,457 against and 13,804 in favor.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/5/2020
Solebury plans one-mill tax hike
Solebury Township supervisors unanimously voted to authorize advertising the 2021 proposed budget. The budget calls for a one-mill tax increase that will set the millage rate at 24.81 and cost the owner of a home assessed at $60,000 an additional $60. Supervisors Chair Mark Baum Baicker said the tax increase is mainly the result of long-term borrowing for open space. There is budget uncertainty involving the township’s earned income tax receipts due to the impact of the pandemic on the economy, but the extent of that impact may not be apparent until 2021. Officials plan to adopt the final budget at their Tuesday, Dec. 8, meeting. Visit the Solebury Township website for virtual meeting and public comment guidance.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/12/2020
Taxes steady in Richland
Richland Township supervisors voted to advertise a 2021 budget that does not increase the municipal real estate tax rate of 11.3 mills. The proposed final budget has been posted on the township website, under the BoardDocs section. Township Manager Paul Stepanoff reported that after a “scare” in April, when earned income tax revenue dropped 60% from the previous April, revenue for all of 2020 is now projected to increase by about 0.4%. The final budget is to be voted on at the Monday, Dec. 14, supervisors meeting.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/12/2020
Construction of new train station in Coatesville set to begin next year
More than 50 people virtually attended a Zoom meeting for a progress report on Coatesville’s ongoing revitalization efforts. City Council President Linda Lavender-Norris, City Manager James Logan and Sonia Huntzinger, economic development administrator at Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance, gave updates on several redevelopment projects in the city. Huntzinger said bids are going out for the new train station by the end of the calendar year, and construction is set to begin next year but may take three years to complete. Plans also call for a 400-car parking garage to be constructed near the train station, with private developments opportunities at two sites on either side of the garage. The property is owned by the Coatesville Redevelopment Authority. Other projects that are planned or underway include: streetscape improvements, realignment of routes 30 and 82 at the center of the city, and the Gateway Project at First Avenue and Lincoln Highway (Route 30). Coatesville has Chester County’s lowest square footage rates for commercial and retail real estate. Lavender-Norris said council members are available to talk with community members as well as investors, developers and entrepreneurs who may be interested in opening a business in the city.
Source: Daily Local; 11/18/2020
Pennsbury voters urged to get tested for coronavirus
Residents who voted at the Pennsbury North-1 and Pennsbury North-2 polling place on Election Day at the main entrance to Chadds Ford Elementary School are being urged to get tested for coronavirus. A person greeting voters at the site tested positive for coronavirus.
Source: Daily Local; 11/15/2020
West Chester property owners could see a tax hike
West Chester Borough administrative staff will present a $18.9 million proposed budget for 2021, including a property tax increase of 6% and a sewer fee rate increase, at next week’s borough council meeting. The first budget draft presented by staffers reflected a 32% property tax increase, but Borough Manager Mike Perrone said that number had been “whittled down” thanks to hard work by the finance committee, borough council, staff and department heads. The millage rate is projected to rise from 6.96 to 7.4 mills. The average homeowner, with a home assessed at $136,360 would pay $1,009 in 2021, as compared to $949 in 2020. Sewer fee collections are down almost a million dollars. With West Chester University closed to most students and businesses operating remotely, usage decreased. The base rate, or current sewer fee, is $26 per month for the first 2,000 gallons. Projections call for a jump to $30.11 per month, or $4.11 more per month. The rate for each thousand gallons over the base rate might increase from $6.90 to $7.99 per month.
Source: Daily Local; 11/15/2020
New Garden park expansion opens
New Garden officials are celebrating the phase two expansion of the township’s flagship community park. New Garden Park was established in 1997 and has been expanded to include a full-sized soccer field. The park sits along the southeastern edge of Landenberg, near the intersection of Route 41 and Newark Road, west of Kennett Square and Avondale boroughs. It includes a creative playground for children, trails, pavilions with electricity, and athletic fields for baseball and softball players. The Phase II expansion of New Garden Park includes an extended walking path and enhanced wetlands.
Source: Daily Local; 11/16/2020
Collingdale revises procedures during COVID-19
Collingdale Borough offices will remain closed to visitors until at least Nov. 30. Office staff will be available by phone daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Inspections will be limited to those necessary for a settlement. If the property is inhabited, the inspector may limit the inspection to exterior only and issue a conditional U&O for settlement. The guidelines will be reviewed daily with guidance from the governor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Source: Collingdale Borough; 11/17/2020
Haverford enacts ‘reasonable accommodation’ ordinance
Haverford Township commissioners on Nov. 9 enacted Ordinance No. 2912-2020, updating the township code “to provide policy and procedures for reasonable accommodation requests under the Fair Housing Amendment Act to eliminate barriers to housing opportunities within the township.”
Source: Daily Times; 11/13/2020
Receiver’s report spotlights Chester’s precarious finances
Chester City’s state-appointed receiver filed a recovery plan in Commonwealth Court on Nov. 3, painting a dire picture of the city’s fiscal situation due to multi-million dollar deficits and pension plan expenses. The documents claim that Chester can’t provide critical services, including the clearing of a snowstorm. The city furloughed 133 employees in various departments in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chester’s situation used to be worse. At the beginning of the year, state officials were concerned that the city would run out of money by year’s end. That has since changed, with the city anticipated to close 2020 with a $1.5 million positive balance, while bringing back some employees who had been furloughed. However, the receiver’s documents show a $3.7 million negative balance in 2021 with revenues anticipated to be $51.5 million and expenditures at $55.2 million. The city has been under state oversight since 1995, and it adopted a recovery plan in 1996, with amendments made in 2006, 2013 and 2016. In April of this year, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed receiver Michael T. Doweary.
Source: Daily Times; 11/16/2020
Springfield to hold the line on taxes in 2021
After dealing with a $2.2 million budget shortfall in late summer, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners is calling for overall “belt tightening” in 2021. To counter the fiscal impacts of COVID-19 without raising property taxes, the proposed $18.3 million budget reduces capital expenditures and employee retirements. “One of the main reasons we were able to avoid a tax increase in 2021 was the fact that the board has been able to maintain a flat level of spending over several years,” said Board President Jeff Rudolph. “Sanitary sewer costs continue to escalate. In the past two years our sewer expenses have increased by over $800,000, which has impacted our sewer reserves.” The board is proposing an increase of $2.75, resulting in a sewer rate of $10.25 per 1,000 gallons, which is calculated to keep revenues and expenses level for the foreseeable future, Rudolph said. The impact of the countywide reassessment on township taxes is not yet clear. Rudolph indicated it is likely some property owners will see increases, some will see decreases, and some will remain close to the same amount. The township will raise the same tax revenue by adjusting the millage rate based on the township-wide assessment. “We estimate the new rate to be close to 3.1212 mills. This will be verified, or altered, upon documentation from the county in early December,” Rudolph said. The board will consider the final budget in December when the final millage figure is expected to be available for the public.
Source: Daily Times; 11/18/2020
No tax increase in Lower Merion Township
The proposed 2021 budget for Lower Merion Township keeps the tax rate at 4.19 mills. A home with an assessed value of $356,000 will pay about $1,500 in township property taxes. Real estate taxes comprise about half of all revenue in the township budget — about $31.9 million of the $62.3 million in total revenue. The township is anticipating a drop of about 26% ($3 million) in business tax revenue compared to 2019 due to the pandemic. The township is able to hold the line on property tax rates in the face of decreased revenue because of increasing property values. In 2012 the total assessed value of all properties in Lower Merion was $7.4 billion, and next year the assessed value is projected to be nearly $7.69 billion. A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2, prior to the final budget vote on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Source: Main Line Media News; 11/16/2020
Towamencin eyes tax hike
Towamencin Township supervisors are preparing a budget for 2021 that will include the first township property tax increase in nearly a decade. The main drivers of increased spending for 2021 are capital projects in the township, including ongoing road repairs and repaving, sewer system repairs, and possible projects related to municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) requirements. Several budget scenarios have been drawn up for the board to consider, with each increase of 0.25 mills in the property tax rate generating roughly $222,000 in new revenue, said finance director Brooke Neve. Supervisors directed Neve to prepare a draft budget with a 0.75-mill tax increase, which would equal an increase of roughly $79 for the average resident. Preliminary budget adoption is anticipated at the Tuesday, Nov. 24, meeting, with final adoption on Dec. 9 or 23. Visit the Towamencin Township website for more information.
Source: The Reporter; 11/17/2020
Winding road leads developer to two municipalities
When the boundary lines for the new town of Narberth were created in the 1890s, one of the lines was East Wynnewood Road. At some point, East Wynnewood Road was shifted to make a gentler curve, but the municipalities didn’t adjust accordingly, and a slice of Lower Merion sits on the Narberth side of the road. A planned development for 3 Elmwood Ave. in Narberth includes a portion of property in Lower Merion. The plans for the Lower Merion portion include two new multifamily buildings. The issue was discussed at a joint meeting of the planning commissions for Lower Merion Township and Narberth Borough. The developer said it is “doing our best to satisfy all of the requirements of both municipalities” and the complications of dealing with two sets of zoning codes. Chris Leswing, director of building and planning for Lower Merion, said staff in both municipalities are still working with the applicant.
Source: Main Line Media News; 11/9/2020
North Wales advertises budget with tax increase
North Wales Borough Council voted unanimously to advertise a 2021 budget that includes a property tax increase. The 0.5-mill increase would amount to an additional $40 to $60 on the average assessed property valued at $120,000, according to Borough Manager Christine Hart. Total borough general fund expenses are projected at $1.6 million, and expenses are budgeted at just over $1.7 million, a difference Hart said should be made up by the balance of unspent funds from prior years. Council adopted the preliminary final budget on Nov. 24, with final adoption scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8 — or Tuesday, Dec. 22, if necessary. Visit the North Wales website for meeting information.
Source: The Reporter; 11/12/2020
Philadelphia officials impose restrictions on indoor gatherings
Warning of a predicted increase in hospitalizations and deaths, Philadelphia officials imposed new rules that ban indoor gatherings, close gyms, museums and other venues, and shut down indoor dining. Without changes, the fall-winter surge could be on track to cause about 1,700 deaths in the city, as many as occurred in the spring, said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. The Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors® has received clarification that real estate open houses will still be allowed under the new guidelines.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/16/2020
Housing Authority vows to give 240 vacant properties to nonprofit developers
The Philadelphia Housing Authority is transferring 240 properties located in increasingly desirable sections of North Philadelphia to nonprofit affordable housing developers. The proposal comes from an initiative led by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Ceiba, a nonprofit serving the city’s Latino community. Partners involved include HACE, Esperanza, the Norris Square Community Alliance and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha. The 240 properties — including vacant structures and lots — will go to the partners with the expressed goal of creating permanent affordable housing. The homes will be located in gentrifying parts of Kensington and not far from Temple University, areas that are seeing construction cranes rise and property values increase after years of little interest from the market. Roughly 80% of the proposed parcels are vacant lots within the boundaries of Second and Sixth streets and Cecil B. Moore and Lehigh avenues. Development pressures have swept into the areas as affordable stock dwindles in Fishtown, East Kensington and Northern Liberties. Properties will be available to low-income families based on the area median income. PHA officials have said the agency owns about 350 uninhabitable properties around the city. The agency has worked on its planned property transfer for more than two years. The transfer will happen in phases over a few years, subject to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development review and approval of the nonprofit partners’ plans.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/18/2020
Penn to donate $100 million to Philadelphia School District for asbestos abatement
The University of Pennsylvania said it will donate $100 million over 10 years to the School District of Philadelphia to remediate environmental hazards, including asbestos and lead. It’s the largest private contribution to the school district in its history, and it comes after years of students, faculty, activists and elected officials lobbying the Ivy League university to make payments to the city in lieu of taxes to help its struggling schools. The school district has an estimated $5 billion in unmet capital needs.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/17/2020