Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Some local governments adjusting to COVID again
BCWSA fined $450K for Clean Water Act violations
East Goshen Township office operating at limited staffing capacity
Seven townships sue to stop Delco health department from taking over municipal inspections
Conshohocken to consider amendments to animal control regulations
Philly’s rental assistance program is ending
CDC issues new eviction ban, Realtors and landlords respond with lawsuit
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new eviction moratorium that will last until Oct. 3. The ban would temporarily halt evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions and would cover areas where 90% of the U.S. population lives. Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties are all experiencing substantial spread according to the CDC. The announcement was a reversal for the Biden administration, which previously said a Supreme Court ruling prevented another extension of the previous moratorium. The day after the CDC order, the Alabama and Georgia associations of Realtors® filed an emergency motion with Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking her to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent order that the CDC could not extend the moratorium without new legislation. The state associations, with NAR’s help, brought a lawsuit in the fall of 2020 challenging the CDC’s authority to impose a blanket ban on evictions. Friedrich ruled with housing providers but put her ruling on hold pending an ongoing appeal, which kept the moratorium in place. The case elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on June 29 a majority of the justices indicated the CDC lacked authority to implement a national eviction moratorium. The high court allowed the ban to expire at the end of July but stated that any further extension would need Congressional authorization. Aside from the moratorium, the administration has insisted that federal money is available — some $47 billion previously approved during the pandemic — that needs to get out the door to help renters and landlords. The White House has said state and local governments have been slow to push out that federal money and is pressing them to do so swiftly.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/3/2021 & NAR; 8/4/2021
Take U&O affidavits seriously, and be accurate
A change being considered in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, is a reminder to encourage real estate consumers to provide accurate and honest information when dealing with municipal use and occupancy inspections. Cheltenham currently has an affidavit system, in which property owners affirm that life and safety items — namely, house address numbers and smoke detectors — are up to code. The township's building and zoning committee noted during its July meeting that a township inspector recently visited homes "to eyeball whether they actually had smoke alarms and street addresses, and two of the properties did not have smoke alarms." The inspector’s findings prompted the committee to discuss and consider the need to begin on-site inspections by municipal staff, a new checklist, including sidewalks, and a fee for expedited processing. The Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners may review and potentially approve the updated use and occupancy process at its August meeting. "This is a situation where cutting corners on simple but important items could result in a process that is much longer, more difficult and more expensive for everyone moving forward," said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of Suburban Realtors Alliance.
Municipalities eager to get shares of federal pandemic aid
Like many businesses, municipal governments have experienced decreased revenues and increased costs due to the pandemic. Income and local services tax payments have been down, with recreation and service fees all but vanished. At the same time, local governments have new, unexpected expenses like buying personal protective equipment for employees. “Municipalities saw revenue shortfalls at the same time they had these expenses that they were not anticipating,” said David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. Under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, $6.15 billion was set aside for Pennsylvania counties, cities, boroughs and townships. The Pennsylvania Treasury Department is disbursing funds to municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents based on requests made through the Department of Community and Economic Development. Read more about how the funds are distributed and which locations have received funding here.
Source: Daily Local; 8/2/2021
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 registration must be completed by Tuesday, Aug. 10.
Source: PA Realtors; 7/2021
PA Supreme Court approves Bucks Court action to delay evictions
A July 22 order signed by Bucks County President Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. that was designed to give residents more time to get help paying rent before facing eviction was rescinded and submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for review after a procedural objection to the program was raised. Bateman entered a new order after the high court issued a per curiam order authorizing the judge to establish and operate the Court Action to Reduce Evictions program. The order allows people unable to pay rent because they have lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic to remain in their homes if they have already applied for Bucks County Emergency Rental Assistance (BERA) aid. The new order contains two significant changes from the original: it is scheduled to expire on Oct. 31, rather than Dec. 31; and it permits magisterial district judges to end continuances for cases in which a BERA application has been denied, withdrawn or otherwise terminated short of approval. The affirmation of Bateman’s order comes two days after the latest extension of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent expired, and just before a new, more targeted nationwide CDC moratorium was enacted a few days later. Residents who need help paying rent or utilities but who are not yet facing eviction may also qualify for aid through BERA. Applications are typically assigned to a caseworker for review within two business days. Learn more by calling 1-888-50-BUCKS or on the BERA website.
Source: Bucks County; 8/2/2021
Bucks SBA Disaster Loan Outreach moving to larger location
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved a request from Gov. Tom Wolf to make financial aid available to residents and businesses affected by flooding from the July 12 storm in Lower Bucks County. The SBA opened an office at the Lower Bucks Government Services Center but has now moved to a larger location at the Levittown Library, 7311 New Falls Road in Bristol Township. Applications are not currently available for individuals impacted by the tornadoes that hit Bucks County last Thursday. That would need to be approved under a separate declaration, since it was unrelated to the floods. The SBA provides disaster assistance to homeowners and renters, as well as businesses and nonprofit organizations, in the form of low-interest loans to help with repairs or property replacement, including vehicles. Click here for more information.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/29/2021
Group of Hilltown residents oppose development plans
A group of Hilltown residents are determined to stop the construction of a 174-home, age-restricted development on 79 acres off Swartley Road and Route 309. Lennar Construction wants to build the homes in Hilltown’s rural residential zone. The rural residential zone recommends density of “one dwelling unit for every three acres of land.” Lennar is seeking a zoning amendment change as well as conditional use zoning for the project. The residents opposed to the project say part of the development would back up to large residential lots and residents would like to keep the space a rural residential area. The residents also worry about an increase in traffic and excessive stormwater runoff. Lennar originally brought the zoning amendment request before the supervisors in 2020 but did not receive approval. Since then, Lennar appeared before the planning commission to discuss an updated sketch plan. The planning commission does not have the authority to approve the development and only made recommendations to Lennar about the recent sketch plan.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/4/2021
Warminster Habitat ReStore is open for business
Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County has opened its latest ReStore at 539 Jacksonville Road, Suite 100, in Warminster. The new store is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Both the Langhorne and Warminster Habitat ReStores accept donations and sell a constantly changing inventory of merchandise while diverting reusable household items and building materials from area landfills. Sales of donated items help Habitat Bucks partner with local families to build, rehabilitate, and repair safe and affordable homes throughout the county. Click here for more information.
Source: Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County; 7/2021
Chesco seeks volunteers to help direct American Recovery Plan funds
With an allocation of nearly $102 million in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds, Chester County is finalizing its structure for prioritizing, requesting and reviewing proposals to effectively spend the money to rebuild communities affected by the pandemic. The county is seeking volunteers to serve on evaluation teams, initially over a period of six months. Each team will address one priority area: public health response (including behavioral health); areas of negative economic impact; disproportionately affected communities; premium pay for essential workers; infrastructure (water, sewer and broadband); and public sector revenue loss. Each team will include representatives from the county’s finance department, solicitor’s office and strategic planning team, who will facilitate the priority groups. Three county employee volunteers and four volunteers from the community will complete each team. The average commitment will be five to 10 hours per month. Anyone age 18 or over who lives or works in Chester County is invited to apply on the county website by Friday, Aug. 20.
Source: Daily Local; 7/29/2021
Oxford Main Street gets state funding
Oxford Main Street Inc. (OMI) will receive $25,000 in state grant funding to support façade improvements in the historic downtown business district. The funding, made available by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Keystone Communities Grant Program, will support ongoing efforts to assist business and property owners in enhancing the aesthetics of downtown Oxford. The urban center of six growing municipalities in southern Chester County, Oxford Borough is in the midst of a revitalization effort that has attracted investment, preserved and repurposed historic buildings, and created a unique sense of place. In addition to streetscape improvements that have transformed the look of Oxford’s downtown, OMI provides façade grants and guidelines to help businesses and property owners restore and enhance their exteriors in line with the historic and architectural character of the community. OMI’s grant comes as part of $5 million in total Keystone Communities Program grant funding awarded to 41 revitalization projects in 21 Pennsylvania counties for façade improvements, blight reduction, building renovations, mixed-use facility and accessible housing construction, downtown and storefront enhancements, and playground construction.
Source: Daily Local; 8/4/2021
Study: Nearly 14% of Chesco renters are in arrears
As of early July, an estimated 6,646 rental households in Chester County — roughly 13.9% — were behind in paying rent, according to a new county-by-county analysis by Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit organization that uses data to analyze health and social problems in communities. Delinquent Chester County households collectively owe $28.3 million in back rent, according to Surgo Venture's estimates, for an average of roughly $4,300 each. Statewide, about 16% of renters are in arrears. The analysis found that more than 6 million households nationwide are behind on rent, owing a total of $23 billion.
Source: Malvern Patch; 7/30/2021
Historic Lincoln Building to serve as welcome center in West Chester
West Chester’s historic Lincoln Building at 28 W. Market St. is where the first biography of Abraham Lincoln was published, helping to launch his run for president. Now, the site will serve a new role as a heritage center promoting Chester County’s cultural treasures with writings, photos and videos. The site of the former Lincoln Tea Room will be part of the Cultural Alliance of Chester County, an initiative of the Chester County Community Foundation. Malcolm Johnstone, a familiar face in the borough who previously led the Business Improvement District, will act as community engagement officer for the cultural alliance, promoting the borough’s culture and history. Hours and an opening date are yet to be determined. There are also Chester County heritage centers in Kennett Square, Marshallton and Phoenixville.
Source: Daily Local; 8/4/2021
New Garden supervisors OK plan for St. Anthony’s revitalization
The New Garden Township Board of Supervisors accepted the final draft of the St. Anthony’s in the Hills master plan during a municipal meeting on July 19. “We have a price tag of $19 million to implement everything in the plan,” said Supervisor David Unger. Since acquiring the local historic property, the township has worked with design consultants to develop and complete a master plan to restore the 137-acre site near the Delaware state line on Limestone Road. “This is at least a six-year plan, as we will be working in phases,” Unger stated. “I would hope it is done by 2027 or 2028.” New Garden is focused on implementing a plan that is fiscally feasible and as environmentally responsible as possible when it comes to developing the property, according to Township Manager Ramsey Reiner.
Source: Daily Local; 8/4/2021
Special election planned for November to replace former Rep. Davidson
A special election to fill the seat of resigned state Rep. Margo Davidson (D-164), of Upper Darby, is set to coincide with the Nov. 2 general municipal election. Davidson, who had served the district since 2011, announced her resignation July 22 after an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office found she allegedly filed fraudulent per diem charges with the House Comptroller’s Office, violated campaign finance reporting rules and attempted to hinder the investigation by urging a witness to lie to investigators. House rules require that when a vacancy occurs, the speaker issues a writ for a special election to be held on the first municipal election that is at least 60 days after the day the writ is issued. Political parties then set their own course for nominating a candidate to appear on the ballot. The term is set to expire at the end of 2022. The position pays $87,180 per year.
Source: Daily Times; 8/3/2021
Chester Housing Authority program aimed at reducing evictions
The Chester Housing Authority (CHA) began taking action seven months before the nationwide eviction moratorium was lifted in a method facilitators hope is a model to keep as many people in their homes as possible. The CHA oversees housing for 2,500 families and senior citizens through 12 housing developments in the city of Chester. Steven Fischer, CHA executive director, said the nationwide moratorium brought relief people needed, but the CHA foresaw the dilemma it would cause down the line. “[Tenants] were going to all owe this money and we were going to be in court with them,” Fischer said. “Not wanting to see that happen, I hired an extra person whose sole responsibility was to reach out to any tenant that had fallen into arrears.” Fischer highlighted the Delaware County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (Delco ERA) for providing back rent and three months going forward. The Delco ERA has received 7,000 applications and awarded 2,600 grants totaling $19.5 million since April 1. The administrator, Capital Access Inc., has provided online and in-person intake sessions, such as those held at the Chester Housing Authority. County Councilman Kevin Madden said each day 50 to 60 residents apply for this program, which was allocated $37 million in the first round of funding and an additional $11.9 million in the second.
Source: Daily Times; 8/2/2021
Delco forges ahead with its health department
As the COVID-19 delta variant intensifies, Delaware County is moving forward to expeditiously create its own health department. For the past 16 months, the Chester County Health Department was providing COVID-19 related services for Delaware County residents in the absence of the county having its own health department, but that arrangement ended on Aug. 1. Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther said county officials are familiar enough with the data and have systems in place that she didn’t anticipate having to go back to Chester County for assistance before Delco’s own health department opens in five months. “We have accelerated the approval process,” Reuther said of a timeline that normally takes two to three years. The process includes economic and need analyses, strategic planning and the hiring of individuals, such as the director of the health department and an epidemiologist. County officials are in the hiring process. Reuther said they had to wait until the state budget was in place before they could do so.
Source: Daily Times; 8/4/2021
A closer look at tax breaks and open space in Radnor’s Ardrossan
The Philadelphia Inquirer examined the evolution of the 800-acre Ardrossan estate in Radnor. In 1997, Ardrossan creator Col. Robert L. Montgomery’s great-grandson Edgar Scott began selling off pieces of the property — with most buyers qualifying for lucrative tax breaks. The tax breaks, ostensibly for protecting open space, may have cost taxpayers around $15 million since 2015 and been based on inflated private appraisals. Despite that public subsidy, outsiders are barred from entering the more-than-five-mile perimeter of the former estate. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/16/2021
Cheltenham committee working on rental licensing and inspection program
The Cheltenham Township Building and Zoning Committee has discussed a proposal to create a rental licensing and inspection program. Township Manager Robert Zienkowski said it is critical to know where rental properties are located, so as to address property maintenance issues. Any fees charged for the program would be sufficient to cover township expenses only, not generate revenue. The township had examined the idea three years ago, but it did not move forward at that time. More information is available in the July 7 committee meeting minutes.
Source: Cheltenham Township Building and Zoning Committee; 7/7/2021
Vegetation issues discussed in Marlborough
Marlborough Township Supervisor Bill Jacobs recently proposed the township write an ordinance curtailing the use of herbicides after he had a confrontation with PPL Electric Utilities. Jacobs saw PPL attempting to spray herbicides on his property without his permission. Solicitor Mark Cappuccio cautioned the board that herbicides cannot be banned altogether but explained that they can be restricted. He said many municipalities prohibit glyphosate, a cancer-causing ingredient found in some herbicides. Cappuccio pointed out that a public utility has the right to keep the right of way clear and has a legal backing to eliminate dangerous threats to its equipment. The solicitor promised to look into ordinances written in other municipalities to determine what, if anything, Marlborough could do. Jacobs has filed objections with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Source: Town and Country; 7/21/2021
Lower Moreland to review sketch plan for Philmont Avenue property
The Lower Moreland Township Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m., will review a sketch plan application for a property located at 3001-3051 Philmont Ave. The application submitted by BET Investments proposes a 250-unit, multi-family residential building consisting of one- and two-bedroom units. The sketch plan phase is simply a review of the plan concept submitted by the developer. It is an opportunity to receive feedback from the commissioners and interested residents. No vote for or against will be considered in the review phase. The plan is available for inspection on the township website on the Eye on Development page.
Source: Lower Moreland Township e-news; 8/4/2021
Upper Moreland school board posts vacancy
Upper Moreland Township School District is seeking resumes from residents interested in filling a vacant seat on the school board. The term would begin on Aug. 30 and end on Dec. 5. The deadline to apply is Friday, Aug. 13, by 4 p.m. and applicants must be available for in-person interviews on Monday, Aug. 30, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at a school board meeting. Click here for more information.
Source: The Intelligencer; 7/28/2021
Marlborough Zoning Hearing Board vacancy
The Zoning Hearing Board of Marlborough Township has a vacancy. Residents interested in serving as a board member can email a letter of interest and resume to email@example.com by Tuesday, Aug. 10. The board consists of three members and one alternate member, all of whom are appointed by the board of supervisors to serve three-year terms. To see the duties of the zoning hearing board, click here.
Source: Marlborough Township
Inquirer Tenants’ Rights Guide: Eviction notices and the moratorium
The Philadelphia Inquirer has a guide to tenants’ rights in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania that breaks down the rules for common landlord-tenant disputes. The latest article provides practical advice from housing advocates and attorneys about what tenants should do if they receive an eviction notice. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/30/2021
After outcry over dirty streets, mayor revives cleaning in 7 neighborhoods
Philadelphia will launch an expanded street cleaning pilot program over the coming weeks — and will begin asking residents to move their cars to make way for mechanical sweeper trucks. Supported by a $62 million, five-year investment in street cleaning services, the expansion will bring “hybrid” cleaning crews utilizing everything from trucks and sidewalk sweepers to push brooms to 14 different areas of the city, effectively doubling up on seven areas targeted for an earlier phase of the pilot program. Cleaning season will run through the end of November. Four areas will be targeted for cleaning to commence on Monday, Aug. 9:
Drivers who fail to move their cars will initially be issued warnings by the Streets Department’s SWEEP enforcement unit, but later enforcement will be turned over to the Philadelphia Parking Authority for fines. The current fine is $31 dollars. The targeted cleaning zones were selected from the dirtiest areas on the city’s Litter Index, which maps reports of dumping and street debris. Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said the administration’s ultimate goal is to enact cleaning services citywide.
Source: Plan Philly; 8/2/2021
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