NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
U+Os are no substitute for private inspections

Bucks County
New Housing Link program offers bonuses up to $2K for Realtors and landlords

Chester County
Malvern to make changes to rental ordinance

Delaware County
Property tax assessment appeals need to be filed by August 2

Montgomery County
Record-breaking numbers at Recorder of Deeds office

Philadelphia County
A state board approved Philly’s long-term financial plan, but challenges loom

 

News Briefs

 

General News

U+Os are no substitute for private inspections  
Suburban Realtors Alliance reminds Realtors not to count on a municipal code inspection to catch everything that will be important to their buyers. We recently heard from a member who had helped her clients close on a home, only to discover a significant electrical issue after settlement. They were surprised by the electrical problem, because the township had performed a use and occupancy inspection before the sale. In fact, electrical boxes were not one of the items on the township's U&O checklist. We've heard similar stories from other members. The SRA encourages Realtors to keep in mind the importance of a private inspection — not only because it protects their clients, but also because it is a strong argument against overreaching municipal inspections. For example, when Falls Township, Bucks County, dropped its U&O inspection requirement last year, the township manager explained it this way: "The level of inspection that home inspectors do privately is far, far greater than what the township's program was providing."

Register for PAR Public Policy Training
Registration is open for the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) virtual public policy training, titled “Advocating for Real Estate.” The first webinar on Thursday, Aug. 12, will highlight the role the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) plays in local, state and national associations’ legislative advocacy. On Thursday, Aug. 19, PAR’s public policy staff will discuss “How to Be an Effective Voice for Real Estate,” highlighting the legislative process, legislative messaging, grassroots advocacy and meeting with legislators. Both sessions will run from 2 to 4 p.m. and will feature breakout sessions. Registration is required, and spaces are limited.
Source: PA Realtors; 7/2021

U.S. House passes PFAS bill regulating ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water
The U.S. House passed bipartisan legislation that would regulate toxic chemicals found in drinking water, as well as designate two types of those toxic chemicals as hazardous substances that would spark federal cleanup standards. The bill, H.R. 2467, also known as the PFAS Action Act of 2021, passed 241-183, with 23 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for it. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, whose Bucks County-based 1st District, has been afflicted by the contamination, and who has emerged as a voice for advocacy, joined with eight of Pennsylvania’s nine Capitol Hill Democrats to vote for the bill, according to an official House roll call. “As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force, the time is now to support the PFAS Action Act so that we can better protect Americans from the harmful effects of these dangerous chemicals,” Fitzpatrick wrote on Twitter.
Source: Pennsylvania Capital Star; 7/22/2021

Biden administration offers new aid for mortgage borrowers at risk of foreclosure due to COVID-19 pandemic
The Biden administration announced it is putting in place new loan modifications and payment reductions to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments during the coronavirus pandemic. The modifications are aimed at staving off a wave of foreclosures and will allow homeowners with federally backed mortgages to extend the life of their loans and reduce their interest rates. The measures will apply to those who cannot afford to resume their monthly mortgage payments. According to the White House, the assistance program will provide homeowners with a roughly 25% reduction in borrowers’ monthly principal and interest payments. The program benefits homeowners with loans backed by one of three federal agencies: Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture or Veterans Affairs. The changes are similar to earlier loan assistance made available to Americans who have mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Homeowners who cannot resume their current monthly mortgage payments also can extend their loan to 360 months at the market rate, according to a White House fact sheet released on Friday. Right now, borrowers who hold federally backed mortgages can delay payments for up to 18 months. The mortgage assistance comes as federal protection for renters behind on their monthly payments is scheduled to expire at the end of the month.
Source: USA Today; 7/23/2021

Eviction moratorium to end, landlords and tenants encouraged to apply for aid before deadline
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium ends July 31. Pennsylvania renters are encouraged to get help through the state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The program is administered at the county level and can cover rent and utility bills accrued after March 13, 2020. The program launched in March and helps those struggling to cover housing costs in the state because of the pandemic. As of June 30, about $133 million has been distributed to more than 30,500 households in Pennsylvania. But there's still more than $400 million available across the state to help renters which is a good thing but also concerning to advocates. A backlog of applications waiting to be processed for ERAP is about to meet a new group of people facing eviction when the moratorium ends. Housing policy experts have warned that millions of Americans are still struggling to pay their rent, and that the end of that legal protection likely will lead to a surge in eviction filings across the country.
Source: Hanover Evening Sun; 7/26/2021

Bucks County

New Housing Link program offers bonuses up to $2K for Realtors and landlords
For the next six months, the Bucks County Housing Link is offering incentives to Realtors and landlords who partner with the Housing Link to lease to qualified program participants. Through the new Bonus for Bucks Landlords Event, landlords who are new to the Housing Link program can receive a bonus equal to one month of rent when they lease up a Housing Link program participant. Landlords and Realtors who refer a landlord to the Housing Link can receive a $2,000 finder’s fee if that landlord ends up participating. Aside from the cash bonus, landlords involved in the program receive reliable rent, continuity coverage payments between leases, the ability to collect additional referral bonuses, and support from the Housing Link staff. For more information on the program, visit the Bonus for Bucks Landlords website and read answers to Frequently Asked Questions. There will also be a webinar explaining the program on Thursday, Aug. 5. Bonus for Bucks Landlords runs through Jan. 31, 2022, and is a joint effort between the Bucks County Housing Link Partners, the Bucks County Association of Realtors and the Suburban Realtors Alliance. 
Source: Bucks County Housing Link; 7/14/2021

County judges’ order aims to reduce evictions
Bucks County President Judge Wallace Bateman signed an order that places a hold on evictions for nonpayment if tenants are in the process of seeking assistance through the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) program. The court action takes effect August 1 and runs through December 31. The action came days before the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium ends. The Bucks County Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) program was launched in March using $37 million in COVID-19 aid monies from the federal government. According to county officials, the program has paid out more than $7.78 million to landlords, aiding 858 households. Bucks County Housing Services Department Director Jeffrey Fields said the BERA program was getting better at quickly processing applications, but more time was needed. Those seeking assistance with housing can call the BERA helpline at 1-888-50-BUCKS or visit the BERA website.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/23/2021

Bucks commissioners approve $1.2M in housing help for flood victims
Bucks County commissioners voted to allot $1.2 million from federal COVID-19 funds to the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) program for housing relief funds for residents affected by the recent flooding in Lower Bucks County officials said they estimate as many as 400 people were displaced by the flooding. Bucks County Housing Link is running the program and those seeking assistance can visit buckshousinglink.org or call 1-800-810-4434. Residents and business owners who suffered flooding damage have been asked to report it to their municipality - Bensalem Township (215-633-3741); Bristol Borough (215-788-3828 ext. 12); and Bristol Township (267-812-2938).
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/21/2021

Plumstead Village Overlay District meeting draws a crowd
Plumstead Township supervisors hoped to limit their discussion of a proposed Village Overlay District (VOD) for Plumsteadville to whether the review would be advertised for continued public meeting or to abandon the project. Instead, a tumultuous public discussion broke out in the packed meeting room and lasted until midnight. According to the township website “the VOD would not change the underlying zoning, it only adds another layer of permitted uses to the possibilities for revitalization and redevelopment” and “gives the community an opportunity to enhance what already exists in the village and plan for the future.”  The zoning changes created in the overlay would permit multiple uses on approximately 70 properties along Route 611 and Stump Road, expand the number of possible apartment residences, and encourage commercial development of micro-distilleries, music venues, taverns, restaurants, medical offices and marijuana dispensaries. Those in favor of zoning change said it will encourage pedestrian use of the town center, revitalize crumbling buildings, and create more town center development. Those opposed feel existing zoning laws could accomplish the same thing without the VOD. In the end, Plumstead supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of announcing a future public informational meeting on the VOD.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/22/2021

Bristol Township School District partners to open cyber academy
Bristol Township School District has partnered with Edmentum EdOptions Academy and the Bristol Township Education Association to launch the Bristol Township Cyber Academy – a virtual option that allows students to stay in the school district. Bristol Township Cyber Academy students also have access to the same resources as Bristol Township School District students, including support, clubs, dances, field trips and sports and earn a BTSD diploma upon graduation. Click here for more information.
Source: Lower Bucks Times; 7/22/2021

Chester County 

Malvern to make changes to rental ordinance
The Borough Council of Malvern will consider adopting an amendment to Chapter 162 of the borough code entitled “Rental Property” to clarify requirements for rental property licenses and establish deadlines for compliance and a late fee for delinquent registrations. The ordinance will be considered at a meeting on August 3 at 7:30 p.m. The public hearing will allow for both in-person and remote participation. Remote participation will be available via Zoom. To participate remotely via phone, please call please call 1-877-853-5247 (US Toll Free) and enter the meeting ID # 886 4335 4000. The video portion may be accessed through the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88643354000. Malvern currently requires the annual registration of rental properties.
Source: Daily Local; 7/23/2021

Groundbreaking for state-of-the art Kennett Library set Aug. 12
The Kennett Library Board of Trustees will host a groundbreaking for the new Kennett Library and Resource Center on Thursday, Aug. 12 at 9 a.m. It will take place at the location of the new building, the corner of State and Willow Streets in the Borough of Kennett Square. All are welcome to attend. “For over 20 years community members have planned, worked, and dreamed about a new regional library and now in 2021 that dream will become a reality, said Board President Jeff Yetter.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 7/23/2021

Pennsbury gains open space
Pennsbury Township supervisors acquired an open space easement for a 39-acre parcel of land on Bluestone Drive that extends to Brinton’s Bridge Road. The property belongs to Arthur Neilson. According to Supervisors’ Chairman Aaron McIntyre, the Neilson property has been among the township’s top 10 acquisition projects. Supervisor Wendell Fenton was more than pleased. “We’ve been talking with Neilson for years about this. I’m delighted he’s agreed to do it.” Township solicitor Tom Oeste said the county assessed the easement value at $487,500, or $12,500 per acre but, with 15 percent woodland, he said, the county reduced the appraisal by 10 percent to $438,750. Oeste added the county would pay 55 percent, and the township will pay the remaining 45 percent or $197,437 from Pennsbury’s open space fund. The easement is designed for the protection and conservation of prime agricultural lands, wildlife, and scenic resources, Oeste said.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 7/22/2021

West Chester waste water treatment plant to get upgrades
West Chester Borough Council unanimously authorized spending almost $1.5 million for required upgrades to Taylor Run Waste Water Treatment Plant, at Wednesday’s meeting. The work is required by the Department of Environmental Protection in a bid to cut the amount of aluminum discharged from the waste water treatment plant. The current permit expires Nov. 30, 2022. “The aluminum doesn’t always dissolve and drop out in the plant process and sometimes there is an aluminum residual left over,” Michael Findley, superintendent for Taylor Run Wastewater Treatment Plant said. “The new filtration system will take that out.” Borough Manager Mike Perrone said the funding will come exclusively from the sewer fund and not the general fund or storm water protection fund.
Source: Daily Local; 7/23/2021

Delaware County

Property tax assessment appeals need to be filed by August 2
Delaware County issued a reminder to County property owners that they have until 4:00 p.m. on August 2, 2021, to file an appeal of their 2022 property tax assessments. Next year’s tax bills are the first due under the County-wide reassessment ordered in 2017 by the Delaware Court of Common Pleas. In 2020, Tyler Technologies, a national company that performed the first and only previous countywide reassessment for Delaware County more than two decades ago, assessed every property using a combination of property records and visual inspections. Property owners can appeal their 2022 tax year assessment by submitting the short County property tax assessment appeal form by 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 2. For the second year in a row, County Council has waived fees for assessment appeals.  Visit the county Treasurer’s website for the 2022 Annual Assessment Appeal form. If you do not have access to the Internet or a printer, you can pick up a copy of the form at the County’s Assessor’s Office at Government Center or call the Assessor’s Office at 610-891-5127 and ask that one be sent to you. There is no cost to appeal the 2022 assessment. To find out more about the updated assessments, please visit the FAQ on the County’s website “It is important that anyone who believes their property’s revised valuation is incorrect to file an appeal. It is possible that the outside vendor didn’t have complete information for some properties, made a mathematical error or grouped a given property with an inappropriate group of neighboring properties when it looked at comparable sales data,” said County Councilwoman Christine Reuther. “We want everyone to be paying their fair share, and not a penny more, and we need property owners to help the County, local municipalities and school districts get it right.”
Source: Delaware County; 7/16/2021

More than 6,000 reached by Emergency Rental Assistance Program
With more than 6,000 people applying for emergency rental assistance in Delaware County, the program has been expanded by another three months and the assistance will be available to anyone with severe housing issues. Capital Access, Inc., the firm hired by Delaware County Council to administer the program, reported that it’s received 6,300 applications. “The demand is there. The word is getting out,” Jeremey Newberg, CEO of Capital Access, Inc. said. He explained that with the average $7,500 anticipated for each application, Delaware County has more applicants than funding in the first round with the $34.5 million of state and federal funds earmarked for the county. Fortunately, a second round of assistance has come available and Delaware County is eligible for nearly $11.9 million. “We view this as a new chapter and an opportunity to go deeper,” Newberg said. “With ERA 2, (the U.S.) Treasury is now saying you can now provide up to 18 months of assistance as opposed to 15. With ERA 2, Treasury says it is housing instability, not housing instability tied to COVID.” With these broader parameters, Newberg said he anticipates that more people are going to ask for housing help. Initially, the program covered 12 months of past due rent and three months’ rent going forward and past-due utility charges. Now, the program includes an additional three months of coverage. Both rounds have income eligibility requirements in that applicants must make 80 percent or less of the area median income for household size. As an example, for a family of four, that’s no more than $77,300. For a two-person household, that annual salary threshold is $61,850. On June 17, Delaware County Common Pleas Court President Judge Kevin Kelly directed the courts, the attorneys, the landlords to make full use of the Delaware County Emergency Rental Assistance Program as a resource to help resolve eviction cases. In-person application sessions occur from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays on the fourth floor of the county’s Upper Darby office at 20 S. 69th St. More information about the application process is also available by calling 484-729-4200, emailing info@delco-era.com or visiting www.delco-era.com.
Source: Daily Times; 7/24/2021

Radnor delays plans for Fenimore Woods renovations
Radnor Township has agreed to delay work on renovating a public park to get more input from the public. Fenimore Woods is a nearly 12-acre park in Wayne with a playground, picnic pavilion, historic stables and a lake. The township purchased the property for a park in 1973. Over the past couple of years, the township has considered changes and upgrades to the park. Part of the plan called for building a new playground that would require removing lots of trees. Residents living in the area near the park objected to the township’s plans to remove trees and the historic stable. Trees that were deemed hazardous will be removed from the park, and other changes have been delayed for now.
Source: Daily Times; 7/23/2021

Eddystone looking forward to new Borough Hall
Eddystone Borough Council took action to start the process for the construction of a new Borough Hall and police station at Eddystone Ave. and 7th St., next to the fire station that was built approximately eight years ago. The current Borough Hall on Saville Ave. at 12th St. was built in the early 1950s. A $500,000 grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program will go toward the new building project. Council President Bill Stewart estimated the complex will cost between $4 and $4.5 million. He said the new complex will include offices for code enforcement, tax collection, and administration. Stewart noted that the borough intends to sell the old Borough Hall and a house on 13th St. The Council has appointed an appraiser to appraise the properties at 706, 708, and 710 Eddystone Ave., and the lot at the northwest corner of Eddystone Ave. and 7th St., which would be needed to accommodate the new municipal complex and parking lot. They have also appointed an appraiser for the house at 1306 12th St., owned by the borough and the current borough hall.
Source: Chester Spirit; 7/21/27/2021

Montgomery County

Record-breaking numbers at Recorder of Deeds office
Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg, is proud to proclaim 2021 to be a record-breaking year for the office. In the first six months of this year, the office has recorded over 76,000 documents. The office typically records around 100,000 documents a year. According to Sorg, about 88 percent of documents came through one of the office’s four eRecording partners after the process of buying and selling real estate pivoted to adhere to health and safety guidelines put in place during the 2020 pandemic. Local real estate agents and brokers agree the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to bringing city dwellers out to the suburbs in search of property with low mortgage interest rates adding to the surge.
Source: The Reporter; 7/21/2021

Limerick talks 168 new townhomes and sewer expansion
Limerick Township supervisors had a full agenda at a recent meeting with three development projects and a sewer expansion request before the board. The development projects would add a combined 168 new townhomes to the township. The first project calls for a mixed-use development on two parcels totaling eight acres at the corner of Neiffer Road and Ridge Pike that includes 34 townhomes. Supervisors delayed any decision on the project for at least a month to allow the solicitor to draft a list of conditions the supervisors will impose along with their approval. The second project brought before the board is in the preliminary stages and calls for sub-dividing 15 acres of unused property off South Limerick Road from the 206-acre Turtle Creek Golf Course. WB Homes plan, named Ironwood, calls for 95 three-story townhomes with three bedrooms that would be sold in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range. The third project has developer Rouse Chamberlin proposing to build 39 townhomes off Linfield Road, adjacent to the Aronomink development. Also in attendance were residents and business owners from western portion of Ridge Pike to ask for the township’s help in gaining access to the public sewer system. Several speakers said they have been working with failing septic systems for decades, many with holding tanks that have to be pumped out regularly at great expense. The township supervisors are no longer in a position to take immediate action because they sold the sewer system to Aqua PA in 2018 for $75 million. Luckily, a representative from Aqua PA was in the audience Tuesday and said the company is looking into doing exactly what the property owners have requested.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/22/2021

Montgomery Mall foreclosed upon, $118M judgment issued
A bank has foreclosed on Montgomery Mall and a $118.78 million judgment has been rendered against the property’s owner, an entity affiliated with Simon Property Group, according to court documents. Built in 1977, the mall underwent renovations in 2008 and later in 2014. Aside from a 128,000-square-foot Wegmans, the anchor tenants at the mall consists primarily of struggling department store chains such as Macy’s and JCPenney. The mall was appraised in 2014 at $195 million, or $176 a square foot, according to Cred-IQ. It was appraised at $61 million, or $55 a square foot, in August 2020. Simon, which is the largest mall owner in the country and also controls the King of Prussia Mall, has engaged in what has been described in published reports as a “friendly foreclosure” of some of its properties.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 7/20/2021

Road dispute in New Hanover leads to lawsuit
A road dispute between New Hanover Township and an East Moyer Road couple has wound its way into federal court. The suit contends that the township is insisting it owns Grandview Avenue, a small alley that connects North Charlotte Street and Moyer Road, but cannot provide proof of ownership. The deed to the home includes a survey showing the parcel includes the portion of the road nearest to the intersection with East Moyer Road and two more recent surveys confirm that finding. Evidence submitted with the latest suit includes minutes from a township supervisors' meeting in 1954 that show the township specifically adopting a resolution against taking ownership of the road when it was offered after the state abandoned the road. The dispute has been ongoing for three years and has generated numerous court filings – all while trash trucks, septic trucks, neighbors and school buses continue to drive the length of the road, driving, in essence, through the private property, the couple contends. The latest filing is a federal civil rights case with the couple contending that New Hanover’s continued insistence of ownership of the road constitutes a taking of their property without compensation.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/26/2021

Philadelphia

A state board approved Philly’s long-term financial plan, but challenges loom
A state board that oversees Philadelphia’s finances approved the city’s five-year financial plan while raising concerns about razor-thin cash reserves coming out of the coronavirus pandemic and the costs of labor contracts that Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is negotiating. The Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a Harrisburg-appointed five-member board created in the early 1990s to help pull the city from the brink of bankruptcy, voted unanimously to approve the financial road map that City Council and the Kenney administration adopted last month alongside this year’s $5.27 billion budget. Members also noted the city’s precarious position in the coming years, as well as uncertainty over the future of revenue sources like the wage tax on suburbanites who work in the city. The projected fund balance, or the amount of money that is expected to be left unspent in each budget year, ranges from $86.5 million this year to a peak of $140.5 million in 2023. Those totals are well below the Government Finance Officers Association’s recommendations, which for this year alone would be almost $900 million. Another area of concern for the board was whether the city, which put $200 million into a labor reserve, has set aside enough money to pay for the four major municipal union contracts, which cover police officers, fire fighters, blue-collar employees such as sanitation workers, and white-collar employees such as low-level supervisors. Rice noted that the price tag of even a 2% raise for those city employees, which would be in keeping with recent inflation rates, would be $381 million.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/27/2021

How repairing homes reduced crime in Philly neighborhoods
Historically segregated blocks of Philadelphia saw crime rates drop by nearly 22% after even just a single home on the block received city-funded repairs, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research found that when a home got a structural fix such as a roof rehab through Philadelphia’s Basic Systems Repair Program, total crime dropped by 21.9% on that block. As the number of repaired houses on a block increased, instances of crime fell even further. The full study can be read here.
Source: Plan Philly; 7/28/2021


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