NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Fannie, Freddie loan limits announced for 2021; NAR urges access to safe, affordable financing

Bucks County
Weeks left for Bucks COVID-19 Mortgage Assistance Program

Chester County
Chester County Recorder’s office temporarily closed, but services continue

Delaware County
Recorder of Deeds system disrupted by hack

Montgomery County
SEPTA maintains commitment to King of Prussia Rail project

Philadelphia County
Philly is set to create a new construction tax and cut a big property tax break

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Fannie, Freddie loan limits announced for 2021; NAR urges access to safe, affordable financing
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced a new baseline conforming loan limit for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2021 — $548,250, a 7.5% increase from 2020’s limit of $510,400. National Association of Realtors® president Charlie Oppler issued a statement: “With home prices setting records in many U.S. markets, the National Association of Realtors® is pleased to see the FHFA raise its national conforming loan limits for 2021. With an assurance that loan limits will align with home price growth, this decision will help ensure homeownership remains within reach for countless American families. As we await final 2021 figures from the FHA, NAR urges federal policymakers to continue prioritizing market stability and access to safe, affordable financing for all U.S. consumers.” The FHFA’s limits define the maximum one-unit single-family mortgage amounts that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may finance and are also used to define the loan limits for the FHA’s program.
Source: nar.realtor; 11/24/2020 and HousingWire; 11/24/2020

Gov. Wolf vetoes home inspector license legislation
Gov. Tom Wolf recently vetoed House Bill 21, which would have created a new license for home inspectors regulated by the State Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers, separate from the existing regulatory framework provided by Act 114 of 2000. In his veto message, Wolf said lawmakers should evaluate existing laws to improve upon the framework of Act 114, “instead of creating a new license class imposing new barriers.” Click here (PDF) to read Gov. Wolf’s veto message.
Source: Doylestown Patch; 12/1/2020

Court approves PREIT restructuring
The owner of several area malls expects to complete its financial restructuring and emerge from Chapter 11 in early December. Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) confirmed Monday that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has approved its financial restructuring plan. Once the retail property owner emerges from Chapter 11, it will have access to $130 million in new financing to support its operations and the continued execution of its strategic priorities, according to the company. In addition, PREIT’s debt maturity schedule will be extended. “We look forward to emerging from this process as a stronger, more innovative platform for our business partners,” said Joseph F. Coradino, CEO of PREIT. Among PREIT’S properties are: Exton Square Mall in West Whiteland, Chester County; Plymouth Meeting Mall in Montgomery County; Willow Grove Park Mall in Montgomery County; and Springfield Mall in Delaware County.
Source: Daily Local; 12/2/2020

Pennsylvania expands COVID-19 tracking app to school-age phone users
Pennsylvania’s two-month-old coronavirus exposure notification app can now be used by mobile phone users as young as 13, as health officials work to stop the virus’ spread in schools around the state. The app, named COVID AlertPa, had previously been limited to people 18 and over. “By expanding the age range, middle and high school students will be able to add their phones to the fight and help in contact tracing that occurs in their schools if a positive case is identified,” state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. A parent or legal guardian must approve the minor’s use of the app, she said. So far, more than 627,000 mobile phone users have downloaded it, according to the state.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2020

Bucks County

Weeks left for Bucks COVID-19 Mortgage Assistance Program
Time is running out for homeowners with mortgage delinquencies directly related to the pandemic to apply for relief. A COVID-related grant made possible by the Bucks County Department of Housing and Community Development and administered by the Credit Counseling Center must disburse its funds by Dec. 31. While immediate action is needed to take advantage of the COVID-related grant, there are also other resources available to help people avoid foreclosure. Joan Reading, executive director of the counseling center, said that if a homeowner gets into mortgage problems, it is imperative to call their lender or the Credit Counseling Center immediately.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 12/1/2020

Bucks County offices open by appointment-only for remainder of 2020
Bucks County officials have announced that county offices will be open to the public on an appointment-only basis for the remainder of 2020. The revised operations are in response to escalating COVID-19 outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths in the county and nationally. The order does not pertain to court employees or court operations, which operate under emergency orders issued by the president judge. County buildings will operate weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To find contact information for a specific department or to learn the latest available COVID-19 information, visit the county website. Members of the public are encouraged to use the website as much as possible to conduct business with the county, including making payments electronically.
Source: Bucks County; 11/30/2020

Falls to hold special meeting for proposed redevelopment of U.S. Steel site
Falls Township supervisors will hold a virtual special meeting on Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. to review a sketch plan for a potential $1 billion-plus redevelopment of the U.S. Steel site. NorthPoint Development will present a plan for the roughly 1,800 acres of the U.S. Steel site and Keystone Industrial Port Complex that the company will be purchasing for an undisclosed sum. Named the “Keystone Trade Center,” the project has the potential to add 5,000 to 10,000 jobs and 15 million square feet of new warehouse space, according to an early master plan. The proposed redevelopment would be one of the largest projects on the East Coast. Visit the Falls Township website for meeting information.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 11/30/2020

No tax increase in Middletown preliminary budget
Middletown Township supervisors gave preliminary approval for a 2021 budget that does not increase taxes despite the loss of nearly $3 million in revenue. The township will shift 0.2 mills of real estate tax from the street lighting fund to the general fund to offset lean revenues in 2021, and also transfer $1.1 million from the investment fund to balance the 2021 budget. The 2021 budget is available for review online. The board is scheduled to adopt the final budget on Monday, Dec. 7.
Source: Lower Bucks Times; 11/28/2020

Chester County 

Chester County Recorder’s office temporarily closed, but services continue
The Chester County Recorder of Deeds (ROD) office will be working remotely and temporarily closed to the public as a precautionary measure due to the significant increase of COVID-19 cases. The office will continue to accept documents for recording via mail, FedEx, and UPS, and through its eRecording partners. The office is tentatively scheduled to reopen to the public on Wednesday, Dec. 16, if conditions allow. A list of answers to common questions can be found online, and the office can be reached by email at RODInfo@chesco.org or phone at (610) 344-6330.
Source: Chester County Recorder of Deeds; 12/1/2020

Report claims CWA makes $6.5M profit on Chester water rates
A report requested by the city of Chester and the Chester Water Authority (CWA) found a $6.5 million difference between what the city ratepayers pay and the costs of operation in Chester. The analysis conducted by Corvias, which separately has a partnership with the Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester for the processing of stormwater, was meant to serve as the basis for a settlement between the city and the CWA in resolving outstanding issues between the two, particularly of ownership, in a move that would have kept the system in public hands. In May 2017, Aqua made an unsolicited $250 million bid for CWA’s assets, which CWA declined. The city contends it has the right to sell the authority. The matter has since been relegated to a series of outstanding lawsuits. In doing its analysis, Corvias looked at consolidating the water and stormwater services under its tutelage. The solicitor for the CWA, Francis Catania, said, “The authority makes no money on its provision of water to city ratepayers.” The CWA, which dates back to 1866, serves a total of about 200,000 people spread throughout 17 Delaware County municipalities and 16 Chester County municipalities.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2020

Good Neighbors nonprofit group helps seniors stay in homes
Good Neighbors, a nonprofit organization headquartered in East Marlborough, assists residents who lack the resources to complete home repairs. The group will perform repairs to a home’s roof, windows, siding, doors, porches, heating system, plumbing and electrical issues. Good Neighbors processes requests for home repairs in the order they’re received, and work is assigned by urgency or severity. Homeowners can request a repair — or neighbors can make a referral — at the organization’s website. The website also has information on volunteering and donating.
Source: Daily Local; 12/1/2020

Despite deficit, North Coventry property taxes won't rise in 2021
Despite a projected deficit of nearly $75,000, the draft 2021 budget for North Coventry Township does not raise property taxes. Township Manager Erica Batdorf outlined the $5.9 million budget during the Nov. 23 meeting. Batdorf proposed using reserves to close the budget gap and avoid a tax hike, which means the tax rate can remain at the current 2.85 mills. The largest portion of the budget is the general fund, which calls for spending $4.9 million in 2020. The open space fund, for which the budget plan allocates $684,000, would have a $48,820 surplus. The township's total assessed property value dropped this year by $1.6 million, according to Batdorf. As a result, keeping the millage the same as 2020 means the property tax will only generate $1.36 million in 2021 — roughly $17,500 less in revenues compared to the current year. The draft budget, which is posted on the township website, will be open for public inspection for several weeks, and a vote on the final budget will take place in December.
Source: The Mercury 11/26/2020

Honey Brook considers comprehensive recreation, parks, open space and greenway plan
Honey Brook Township supervisors will hold a public hearing on a proposed resolution to adopt the Honey Brook Township Comprehensive Recreation, Parks, Open Space and Greenway Plan, as a supplement to the Honey Brook Township and Borough Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2015. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. The public hearing and regular meeting will both be held at the township building at 500 Suplee Road. The public is invited to participate in person or by joining the Zoom virtual meeting. Login information can be obtained by emailing the township manager at manager@honeybrooktwp.org, by noon on Wednesday, Dec. 9. A complete copy of the draft Honey Brook Township Comprehensive Recreation, Parks, Open Space and Greenway Plan is available on the township website.
Source: Daily Local; 12/1/2020

Delaware County

Recorder of Deeds system disrupted by hack
The Delaware County Recorder of Deeds office has been affected by the larger cyber attack on the county computer system. According to an employee who answered the phone in the recorder's office, the system is "half-working." They don't know when it will be fully restored. Title companies are reporting that they cannot complete the necessary title searches needed to produce a title commitment and a deed package.

Report claims CWA makes $6.5M profit on Chester water rates
A report requested by the city of Chester and the Chester Water Authority (CWA) found a $6.5 million difference between what the city ratepayers pay and the costs of operation in Chester. The analysis conducted by Corvias, which separately has a partnership with the Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester for the processing of stormwater, was meant to serve as the basis for a settlement between the city and the CWA in resolving outstanding issues between the two, particularly of ownership, in a move that would have kept the system in public hands. In May 2017, Aqua made an unsolicited $250 million bid for CWA’s assets, which CWA declined. The city contends it has the right to sell the authority. The matter has since been relegated to a series of outstanding lawsuits. In doing its analysis, Corvias looked at consolidating the water and stormwater services under its tutelage. The solicitor for the CWA, Francis Catania, said, “The authority makes no money on its provision of water to city ratepayers.” The CWA, which dates back to 1866, serves a total of about 200,000 people spread throughout 17 Delaware County municipalities and 16 Chester County municipalities.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2020

New Springfield High School set to open in January
The new Springfield High School will officially welcome students on Jan. 4, 2021. The new building is the focal point of a larger district “master plan,” encompassing the structure, site development, athletic fields, small outbuildings and demolition of the existing high school. The district reported the comprehensive project cost is now estimated at $128 million, at least $9 million less than the working figure throughout the process.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2020

County council approves $5.5M for PPE stockpile
Delaware County Council recently approved spending $5.5 million to acquire more personal protective equipment (PPE) to stockpile in preparation for a potential virus surge. At its Nov. 18 meeting, council unanimously approved the expenditure to be specifically used to purchase PPE for first responders and county employees as cases of COVID-19 are expected to continue on an upward trajectory through the holiday and colder seasons. “I remember in April, it was like the Wild West everywhere,” Council Chairman Brian Zidek said. “We would get an email saying, ‘Hey, I can get my hands on 10,000 masks,’ or ‘I’ve got a chance to get some gowns.’ We don’t want to be in that position.”
Source: Daily Times; 12/2/2020

Brookhaven appoints new council member
Brookhaven Borough Council appointed Michael Gilroy to fill the unexpired term of Councilwoman Denise Leslie. His term will expire on Dec. 31. Leslie was appointed mayor last month, succeeding retiring Mayor Mike Hess. “I am honored and humbled by the faith and trust council has shown in me,” Gilroy said.
Source: Chester Spirit; 11/25/2020


Montgomery County

SEPTA maintains commitment to King of Prussia Rail project
In a recent virtual meeting, SEPTA officials doubled down on their commitment to a $2 billion project that would extend rail service from Philadelphia to King of Prussia by 2027. The price tag for the King of Prussia Rail Project (KoP Rail) has increased from $1.3 billion to $2 billion due to inflation, design changes and real estate acquisition costs. Federal dollars will cover some of the costs. The project will connect King of Prussia, Center City and University City, with King of Prussia stops at Henderson Road, Allendale Road, Mall Boulevard, First and American Avenues, as well as First Avenue and Moore Road/Valley Forge. SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards called the KoP Rail project “extremely important” to the region’s future.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/2/2020

Pennsburg swears in new mayor
Charlie Shagg was recently sworn in as mayor of Pennsburg Borough. The seat was vacated by Vicki Lightcap, who resigned one day earlier to “pursue a personal opportunity.” Shagg previously served as Pennsburg mayor in 2001 and was reelected in 2005, then resigned two years later. He will complete Lightcap’s term, which is to expire at the end of 2021.
Source: Town & Country; 11/25/2020

MCCC launches Recovery Tuition Assistance Program
Montgomery County Community College recently launched its Recovery Tuition Assistance Program, which offers MCCC tuition waivers for eligible Montco residents who have become unemployed due to COVID-19. Assistance is available to Montgomery County residents who suffered full- or part-time employment loss on or after March 6, the date of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Emergency Disaster Declaration. Supporting documentation is required. Information on the program can be found on the college’s website.
Source: Senator Katie Muth Facebook post; 11/24/2020

Montco prothonotary’s satellite office handles eviction appeals
Montgomery County Prothonotary Noah Marlier has opened a satellite office with the specific purpose of assisting residents with landlord-tenant appeals. As most filers and litigants — including renters and landlords — are still restricted from entering the county courthouse due to pandemic restrictions, Marlier said his office needed to increase access to landlords and tenants for filing of appeals. The special office opened at the beginning of November in One Montgomery Plaza, 425 Swede St., Norristown, across the street from the Montgomery County Courthouse. “We are facing an eviction crisis and potentially a homelessness crisis. Tens of thousands of residents, right here in Montgomery County, could be facing eviction in the coming months,” said Marlier. The Prothonotary’s Landlord/Tenant Office will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information about the resources available regarding landlord/tenant appeals and supplemental eviction instructions, and current office guidelines, residents can visit the prothonotary website or contact the office at 610-278-3361.
Source: Mercury; 10/21/2020

 

Philadelphia

Philly is set to create a new construction tax and cut a big property tax break
Philadelphia is poised to enact a new tax on residential construction and to make major changes to the city’s controversial property tax abatement program under a deal struck by City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration that paved the way for three bills to win approval from a council committee. The legislation would be a major victory for Clarke, who has proposed using the revenue from the new construction tax and future reductions in the real estate tax break to finance $400 million in bonds for an ambitious antipoverty and affordable-housing plan he is calling the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative. For city homeowners, it could mean a new tax as soon as next year equal to 1% of the value of new construction or any major improvement they make to their houses. For commercial property owners, it would mean a 10% reduction in the value of the 10-year real estate tax-break program. The development industry, Kenney, and his political backers in the building trades unions were initially skeptical of the changes, which they feared would slow economic growth in the city. But the administration on Tuesday testified in support of the legislative package after reaching a compromise with Clarke that will exempt commercial properties from the construction tax and delay the implementation of reductions in the tax abatement, according to a City Hall source with knowledge of the deal who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. The bill is now headed to the council floor, with a final vote as soon as Thursday, Dec. 10, at council’s last meeting before its holiday vacation.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/2/2020

City council committee votes to extend landlord-tenant mediation mandate
A Philadelphia mandate requiring landlords to mediate conflicts with renters before filing for eviction is on track to be extended through March 2021. City council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and The Homeless on Wednesday voted to extend the mediation-based eviction diversion program, which is designed to prevent displacement while keeping landlords whole. The legislation originally sunsetted the program at the end of 2020. The bill will now advance to the full council for a final vote on Thursday, Dec. 10. An amendment gives the city wiggle room over what counts as diversion. Originally, a formal mediation had to happen through the program within 30 days on the date provided automatically when the landlord successfully applied to the program. Now, mediation doesn’t have to be as formal. The latest figures show that tenants and landlords who go through Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program reach an agreement in more than 86% of cases.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/25/2020

Mayor Kenney prioritizes Philly renters in latest coronavirus spending plan
About $7.7 million in federal aid would go to Philadelphia renters struggling to make ends meet under a plan by Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to distribute the latest round of coronavirus relief funding. The rental assistance is part of an $11.3 million plan for spending the second and final tranche of Community Development Block Grants that were earmarked for Philadelphia in September under the pandemic relief package known as the CARES Act, which Congress approved in March. The city distributed $26.2 million in the first round of grants, including $11.5 million for rental assistance. The plan for second-round spending, which needs full city council approval but was green-lighted by council’s finance committee on Monday, also allocates $1 million for housing counseling and legal services, and about $566,000 for programs helping small businesses weather the pandemic.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/2/2020

 
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