NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Judge orders hundreds of misled rent-to-own tenants be given homes

Bucks County
Morrisville to allow park to be included in riverfront development area

Chester County
Phoenixville tables vote on 400-unit housing project

Delaware County
Radnor officials defeat measure to cancel ranch lease seen as aiding Ardrossan tax reductions

Montgomery County
Norristown council approves comprehensive lead paint inspection ordinance

Philadelphia County
Philly Tree Plan aims to boost tree canopy from 20% to 30% in 30 years

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Judge orders hundreds of misled rent-to-own tenants be given homes
An Allegheny County judge ordered Vision Property Management, one of the country’s largest rent-to-own home selling companies, and its affiliates to transfer the deeds of 285 Pennsylvania homes to residents who had been misled into thinking they would be homeowners. That includes nine homes in Delaware County, one in Montgomery County and 19 in Philadelphia. The contracts are to be considered paid in full. It’s the latest development in a lawsuit that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office brought against the company and affiliates in 2019, claiming that they had misled more than 650 Pennsylvania residents into entering rent-to-own agreements on dilapidated, foreclosed homes that they were responsible for fixing. Pennsylvania sued the company and its affiliates in October 2019 after seeing news reports, hearing from legal aid attorneys, and seeing suits by other state attorneys general. Under “lease with option to purchase” contracts, residents were responsible for making expensive repairs needed for the homes to be livable, which is against the law, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The agreements did not provide ownership rights in a way that residents could afford, and residents who fell behind on rent faced immediate removal. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/30/2021

NAR submits comments on FHFA's re-proposed capital rule
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) submitted a comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) in response to its request for input on changes to the 2020 enterprise regulatory capital framework (ERCF), or capital rule. The re-proposed rule makes important changes, which Realtors support, that allow government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to continue to offload credit risk to private investors through credit risk transfer (CRT) deals and avoids incentives that would have encouraged the GSEs to finance riskier mortgages. Both changes reduce risk at the GSEs and help them perform their Congressionally chartered duties. However, NAR believes the ERCF must be further refined:

  • The buffers included in the risk-based rule remain too high.
  • The minimum risk weight for single family loans and the minimum for CRT are too high.
  • The counter cyclical buffer is problematic.
  • The FHFA rule does not address the potential impact of an explicit guarantee on the enterprises’ capital requirements.
  • The FHFA must address the impact on fees of a risk-based capital rule for entities with charter obligations.

The FHFA’s leadership has suggested that the recent re-proposal is the start of a longer process of refinement. NAR will work with the FHFA to improve the rule and ensure a steady flow of affordable credit to credit worthy borrowers.
Source: Nar.Realtor; 11/24/2021

PA lawmakers’ salaries to rise by nearly $5K
Pennsylvania lawmakers will see a record bump in their paychecks when an automatic pay raise kicks in. It will boost the annual salary for rank-and-file legislators to $95,432, up from the $90,335 that it has been for this year and last. Lawmakers who hold elected caucus leadership posts will earn more. Their salaries will range from $108,819 for the House and Senate minority and majority caucus administrators up to $148,976 for House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-100) and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-34). A 1995 state law automatically ties pay for legislators, judges and top executive branch officials, including the governor, to the annual change in the U.S. Department of Labor-determined Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. The pay raise for executive and judicial branch officials takes effect on Jan. 1, while the legislature’s 2022 pay hike is effective Dec. 1.
Source: Daily Times; 12/01/2021

Bucks County

Morrisville to allow park to be included in riverfront development area
Morrisville Borough Council voted 4-3 to amend the boundary of the borough’s redevelopment area to include Williamson Park. The approval would allow a major redevelopment of the borough’s Delaware River waterfront by a group called Select Morrisville. The group is proposing to build a $125 million, 600-plus apartment and retail complex on 40 acres along the river. Select Morrisville has proposed new baseball fields, other athletic facilities and a walking trail along the river. Although council voted to allow the parkland into the redevelopment area, they will still have a battle on their hands. A group of residents filed suit this fall to prevent the park from being taken for redevelopment. A hearing date has not been set. Read more here.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/1/2021

No tax increase expected in county budget for 2022
The preliminary 2022 operating budget for Bucks County does not include a tax increase. The budget totals $474.1 million — a 1.1% increase over 2021. The board of commissioners plans to balance the budget using revenue from additional anticipated sources. The county expects to receive federal funds totaling more than $122 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for use in mitigating the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 preliminary budget can be reviewed on the county website. The final budget is slated for adoption at a public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 10:30 a.m.
Source: Bucks County; 11/24/2021

Taxes steady in Dublin
Dublin Borough Council has adopted a 2022 preliminary budget of about $3.2 million that is available for inspection at Borough Hall, 119 Maple Ave., during normal business hours. The budget reflects no tax increase — the real estate millage will remain at 21.25 mills. There is a water rate increase from $3.70 to $4.65 per 1,000 gallons, and also a quarterly trash and recycling rate increase from $71.54 per quarter to $78.70. The adoption of the final budget and Ordinance 331, setting 2022 tax rates, is scheduled for the council meeting on Monday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Source: The Intelligencer; 11/29/2021

Springfield Township to adopt 2015 Uniform Construction Code
Springfield Township supervisors voted to advertise a draft ordinance that will adopt the 2015 version of the Uniform Construction Code. According to Mike Italia of Barry Isett Associates, a contractor for the township, the current township ordinance doesn’t compel residents to get a permit for electrical work. Some electric providers require an inspection, and that forces residents to go to a third-party for a review. “We’re just looking for some consistency when residents are doing alterations that really should be inspected,” Italia said.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/23/2021

Chester County 

Phoenixville tables vote on 400-unit housing project
Phoenixville Borough Council has held off voting on a five-year-old housing plan for nearly 400 units after a small crowd of residents spoke out against it. Known as the Odessa development, the project is located off Township Line Road and received preliminary site plan approval from the borough in 2016. The first plan called for 500 units, including three apartment buildings and a “life care facility” on nearly 13 acres. “We thought there was a tremendous need, but we couldn’t find a partner so we took another look at it and asked ourselves what we could do with it that is consistent with the zoning,” said developer Dave Moskowitz. The new plan, which is endorsed by the borough planning commission, calls for 392 units divided among an apartment building and stacked townhouses. The steep forested terrain will require the use of multiple retaining walls, at least one of which will be 20 feet high, and the clear-cutting of nearly all of the trees there, which is the central point of protest raised by those who attended the Nov. 9 meeting. The council voted 5-2 to table a decision until the next meeting in December.
Source: Daily Local; 11/20/2021

Economic development on the rise in Chester County
The Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) recounted recent accomplishments at an annual stakeholders’ meeting on Nov. 19. Highlights for the fiscal year 2020-2021 included $9.96 million in Chester County Main Street grants, $5.85 million in COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) grants and 4,573 participants in CCEDC-affiliated workforce development programs. For more details, read CCEDC’s annual report.
Source: Daily Local; 11/21/2021

County gets $2.5M in grants for four community projects
Four Chester County projects have been awarded state grant funding totaling more than $2.5 million. The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the following grants:

  • Natural Lands Trust — $25,000 in Greenways, Trails and Recreation Funds for a bridge within the Stroud Preserve that connects the parking lot to the preserve and trail system.
  • West Bradford Township — $1 million through the Multimodal Transportation Fund for traffic improvements on Marshallton-Thorndale Road and Poorhouse Road.
  • New Garden Township — $100,000 in Greenways, Trails and Recreation Funds to support rehabilitation efforts at St. Anthony’s in the Hills. Phase I of rehabilitation includes adding accessible paved trail and parking, sidewalks, recreation features and sustainable improvements.
  • Kennett Greenways — $1.47 million from the Multimodal Transportation Fund for streetscape improvements along Birch Street and construction of a railroad underpass, part of the Kennett Greenway, a 14-mile multi-purpose trail loop connecting the greater Kennett area. The proposed railroad underpass will include a new 10-foot-wide multi-use trail approaching an 8-foot-high by 12-foot-wide underpass, to be located beneath the East Penn Railroad, with pedestrian lighting.

Source: Daily Local; 11/22/2021

Applications being taken for affordable housing complex in West Chester Borough
Church Housing Corp., a faith-based not-for-profit organization that provides housing and supportive services to people with special needs, families, individuals and seniors with modest means, is accepting applications for Pinckney Hill Commons, a 51-unit affordable housing rental development in downtown West Chester. The property will feature 10 townhomes and a four-story, 41-unit apartment building. Church Housing representatives will be available at the adjacent Melton Art & Education Center, 500 E. Market St., on Saturday, Dec. 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., to provide applications and answer questions. For more information, visit the Church Housing Corp. website or email inquiries@chcliving.org.
Source: Daily Local; 11/21/2021

West Chester officials mull forbidding mayors from serving at two positions
At its December meeting, West Chester Borough Council will likely consider whether to change the way it fills vacancies on council and also to prevent office holders from holding two elected positions simultaneously. The current council replacement process is burdensome, according to several members of council. Candidates nominated by council or mayor would be elected by the voters through both a primary and November election. If an appointed member of council is selected after it is too late to run in the primary, but in time for the fall election, political parties now choose a candidate for the ballot. With the proposed changes, an appointee would wait until the following year and run in both the spring primary and fall election. The new proposed rules are designed in part to prevent mayors from also serving a second elected position simultaneously.
Source: Daily Local; 11/28/2021

Delaware County

Radnor officials defeat measure to cancel ranch lease seen as aiding Ardrossan tax reductions
Officials in Radnor have defeated a measure to cancel a lease on township land for a cattle operation that also helps residents on parts of the former Ardrossan estate save hundreds of thousands each year on their taxes. In a 4-2 vote with one abstention, township commissioners rejected Commissioner Richard Booker’s motion to terminate Fern Valley Farm’s $1-a-year lease to use 71 acres of publicly owned property for its 60-head black Angus beef business. The decision leaves in place an agreement that Fern Valley has said was vital to its 10-person operation, which also relies on feed crops grown on sections of the former estate that are now private homesteads. Because of this reliance, Booker has argued that the lease is helping some of those private property owners claim property breaks available to land that is farmed. However, Commissioner Lisa Borowski, whose ward includes part of the former Ardrossan estate, said residents are benefiting from the deal. Borowski also said that the farmland-preservation programs give Ardrossan landowners an incentive not to subdivide and develop their large properties, which they could opt to do. This does not appear to be accurate, since all of the privately held properties enrolled in such programs are also covered by deals known as conservation easements that prohibit them from being further developed in perpetuity, according to an analysis of property records by The Inquirer. The programs tax land for what it is worth as a working farm and not what its value would be if sold on the open market for housing, strip malls or offices. At least two dozen parcels on more than 260 acres are successfully enrolled in the programs, according to an Inquirer analysis of Delaware County records.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/23/2021

Delco allocates $3.4M in open space in Darby, Upland and Upper Prov
Delaware County Council approved $3.4 million in open space grants for three county-owned parks — Rose Tree Park, Little Flower Park and Upland County Park. “Rose Tree Park is sort of our centerpiece park in the county system, in the geographic middle of our county,” Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said. Little Flower Manor in Darby and Upland Park in Upland Borough are smaller but are situated in more densely populated areas that have not been as well serviced with parks, Schaefer said. The funding comes from a combination of capital plan funds and American Rescue Plan Act funds. Delaware County created an Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan in 2015. County council agreed to increase the budget by $1.1 million for the first phase of the open space development plan for Little Flower Park in Darby. The extra money allows for additional parking, playground, athletic fields, lighting and associated stormwater management needs. Council also approved spending $1 million for the professional services and construction of the destination playground and pedestrian mall at Rose Tree Park. Another $1.3 million increase was approved for the Upland County Park to accommodate increased costs for materials for the playground and for a new, all-grass athletic field, including lighting and a paved walking trail.
Source: Daily Times; 11/24/2021

Aldan considers firewood storage ordinance
Aldan Borough is considering an ordinance that will establish standards and requirements for the outdoor storage of firewood. The draft ordinance’s aim is to minimize and eliminate rodent infestation, insect infestation and blocking of view of adjoining properties and vehicular traffic. Under the draft ordinance, all firewood would need to be stacked and stored in a neat and orderly fashion on a support structure that elevates the firewood four or more inches above any surface upon which it is to be stored. Stacks or piles of firewood would not exceed four feet in height, four feet in width and eight feet in length as measured from the support structure. Each stack or pile of firewood would need to be surrounded on all sides by no less than four feet of open egress, clear of all materials. Any and all stacks or piles of firewood would be set back no less than four feet from any fence or property line, and no less than six feet from any structure, and secured to prevent falling or collapse. Firewood would not be permitted within the required front yard of a lot, and would be covered with a tarpaulin and kept free of rodents and other pests. If passed, the ordinance will go into effect on Saturday, Jan. 1. Aldan Borough Council will consider the ordinance for approval on Wednesday, Dec. 8, at the borough offices, located at 1 W. Providence Road.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2021

Local fire companies battle the decline of volunteerism
Recent news stories have detailed the offers of local tax relief and stipends for volunteer firefighters as the spirit of volunteerism struggles to overcome the reticence of residents working multiple jobs or who are just not interested in giving away their time for free. In 1977, Pennsylvania estimated there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters in the state. Now that number is less than 50,000. Chester City has had a full career department for many years, and Upper Darby has a combination career/volunteer system, but most departments have been fully volunteer until recently. An informal discussion with some Delaware County fire officials details the challenges and ways they are trying to recruit volunteers. In Newtown, firefighters will see a 100% tax relief next year on their township taxes. Radnor recently passed a resolution to provide qualifying firefighters with a $1,000 stipend as a way to encourage more participation. Haverford also approved a nearly $1,000 grant from pandemic funds for its firefighters. “It’s a very big plus,” said Manoa Fire Company Chief Mike Norman Jr. “This is a one-time thing that we were not expecting.”
Source: Daily Times; 11/24/2021

Montgomery County

Norristown council approves lead paint inspection ordinance
Norristown Municipal Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will require lead paint testing for all property resales and rental licenses beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. Ordinance 21-14 was initially introduced during a council work session last month, as representatives from county health and advocacy agencies urged the municipality to better protect children from lead poisoning. Advocates shared that about 95% of homes in Norristown were built prior to 1978, the year lead paint was banned. Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA) lobbied against the point-of-sale aspect of the ordinance through individual meetings with council members and during a public council meeting. In a letter to all council members, SRA president/CEO Jamie Ridge warned that the cost of resale inspection requirements is becoming too large of a burden for current residents hoping to sell their homes. SRA staff will ensure that the municipal database is updated to reflect the new requirements, and will create a dedicated web page focused on lead paint testing.

Norristown to amend property transfer and sewer lateral requirements for new construction
Norristown Council is considering making amendments to its property transfer and sewer lateral inspection requirements. The changes would exempt certain new construction from the use and occupancy inspection as part of the property transfer process, provided that the property transfer occurs within 90 days of the date a certificate of occupancy is issued for the new construction under the Uniform Construction Code. Draft Ordinance 21-16 can be viewed on the municipal website. The proposed changes will be considered on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit 23, 2 W. Lafayette St.
Source: Times Herald; 11/29/2021

North Wales tax increase nearly finalized
North Wales Borough Council voted unanimously to adopt a 2022 budget that includes a tax increase, and to advertise the accompanying tax millage ordinance for a formal vote in December. If the millage ordinance is adopted without changes, it will mark the second tax increase in as many years. The proposed budget would increase the real estate rate to 6 mills from the current 5.501 mills. A property assessed at the township average of $120,000 would see a tax increase of roughly $60, from $664 to $724. North Wales Borough Council next meets on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m. at the borough building, 300 School St. For more information, visit the borough website.
Source: The Reporter; 11/26/2021

Pottstown to consider tax increase
Pottstown Borough Council will consider for adoption a 2022 budget that includes a tax increase. If adopted without the change, the tax rate will increase from 13.543 mills to 14.09 mills — an increase of just over 4%. The proposed budget has been posted on the borough website. The increase is lower than the 7% hike first mentioned in October. Borough officials say a budget deficit can be attributed to higher wages, health care costs and lower property assessments. The total assessed value of all borough properties combined has dropped from $860 million in 2006 to about $760 million today. Additional tax revenue was lost when Pottstown Hospital was purchased in 2017 by Tower Health, which immediately sought nonprofit status and an exemption from property taxes. Borough Manager Justin Keller stated that change cost the borough about $1 million in tax revenue.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/29/2021 & 10/13/2021

Cheltenham announces free radon test kits available
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and American Lung Association have included Cheltenham Township in a targeted radon survey campaign. Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, invisible, radioactive gas that may cause lung cancer. Any building in contact with the ground can have a radon problem, but such contamination can be remediated fairly easily. Cheltenham residents can read more about the program on the DEP website and complete the online form for a free test kit here.
Source: Cheltenham Township; 11/22/2021

Limerick to update transportation impact fee
Limerick Township supervisors will consider a draft ordinance that will impose a transportation impact fee upon new development within a designated transportation service area in the township. The ordinance would narrow the scope of an existing ordinance which imposes a transportation impact fee on all new development. The purpose of the proposed fee is to ensure that the transportation system is available and adequate to support new growth and development. A copy of the proposed ordinance is available for review at the Limerick Township Municipal Building, 646 W. Ridge Pike, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The proposed ordinance will be considered on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. at the municipal building.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/30/2021

Philadelphia

Philly Tree Plan aims to boost tree canopy from 20% to 30% in 30 years
The Philly Tree Plan aims to reduce the canopy disparities between Philly neighborhoods that contribute to temperature gaps of up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Trees not only help keep neighborhoods cool, they store planet-warming carbon and have been associated with better health outcomes for nearby residents, including reducing respiratory symptoms. The city lost 6% of its canopy between 2008 and 2018, largely in residential areas. As of 2018, 20% of the city was covered by trees. City officials want to increase that to 30% within 30 years, and the draft Philly Tree Plan sets more specific goals, including prioritizing areas with higher levels of poverty, poorer air quality, poorer mental and respiratory health, and more exposure to heat. The plan will guide city activities over the next 10 years, but its benefits could be felt further into the future. City officials published draft recommendations in early November and gathered public feedback via an online survey. The city’s TreePhilly program, which gives out about 2,000 free yard trees per year to those that request them, has not helped close the disparities in tree coverage.
Source: WHYY; 12/1/2021

What the infrastructure act could mean for Philly
Mayor Jim Kenney joined President Joe Biden for the signing into law of the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, from which Philadelphia stands to gain. For Philly, the spend could mean an increase in regional transit accessibility and capacity, help to heal neighborhoods divided by past highway projects, a reduction in the persistent digital divide in broadband connectivity, and potentially more tourism via boosted Amtrak service. Read more here.
Source: Billy Penn; 11/15/2021       


Philadelphia says city employees must get vaccinated
Philadelphia city workers will be required to be vaccinated or get an exemption by mid-January, city health officials said. The announcement reverses course from previous directives that allowed unvaccinated workers to wear double masks while at work in enclosed offices. City officials had mandated this summer that new employees be vaccinated as a condition of employment, and recently the city mandated that non-union employees be vaccinated by Dec. 1. The new mandate covers workers represented by four city labor unions, as well as some city contractors, and requires two doses or an approved exemption by Jan. 14. Officials said employees who fail to comply will be considered unable to fulfill their duties and will be placed on unpaid leave for no longer than 15 days. Continued refusal to be vaccinated could result in firing, city officials wrote.
Source: Penn Live; 11/19/2021

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