NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Why $1 billion in rent relief isn’t keeping some PA tenants safe from eviction

Bucks County
Morrisville postpones vote on Williamson Park redevelopment; votes down EIT

Chester County
Judge rejects Tower’s request for property tax exemptions

Delaware County
Chester asks receiver to approve water authority purchase by Aqua

Montgomery County
Norristown council moves lead paint ordinance forward

Philadelphia County
West Philly subsidized townhomes to be sold, displacing dozens of families

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Why $1 billion in rent relief isn’t keeping some PA tenants safe from eviction
In most of Pennsylvania, there are no formal rules to protect tenants from ending up in court during the often months-long wait for rental assistance that is available via federal COVID-19 relief funding. Nearly two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on evicting tenants who couldn’t pay rent because of the pandemic, a long-feared surge of people losing their homes has so far been kept at bay by an unprecedented amount of federal money to make landlords whole. Pennsylvania was given more than $1 billion in federal rent and utility relief — enough funding, by some estimates, to cover all the rental debt that has piled up since COVID-19 hit. The assistance has prevented many evictions from being filed altogether and offers tenants who do end up in court a lifeline that’s not usually there — if they know about it. But across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, each running its own rental assistance program, the rules vary and the results are wildly uneven. Read more here.
Source: Spotlight PA; 10/19/2021

EPA unveils strategy to regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’
The Biden administration said it is launching a broad strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds that are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and firefighting foams. Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said his agency is taking a series of actions to limit pollution from a cluster of long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS that are increasingly turning up in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food. The Defense Department said it is moving to assess and clean up PFAS-contaminated sites throughout the country, while the Food and Drug Administration will expand testing of the food supply to estimate Americans’ exposure to PFAS from food. The Agriculture Department will boost efforts to prevent and address PFAS contamination in food. The plan is intended to restrict PFAS from being released into the environment, accelerate cleanup of PFAS-contaminated sites, such as military bases, and increase investments in research to learn more about where PFAS chemicals are found and how their spread can be prevented. Under the strategy announced, the EPA will move to set aggressive drinking water limits for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act and will require PFAS manufacturers to report on how toxic their products are. The agency also will designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the so-called Superfund law that allows the EPA to force companies responsible for the contamination to pay for the cleanup work or do it themselves.
Source: Daily Times; 10/19/2021

NAR Policy Forum Series: The Impact of Student Loan Debt
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) hosted a virtual event to discuss the student loan debt crisis, its effects on the economy and the housing market, its effects on certain debt holders, and potential solutions. Watch the roughly 90-minute video here.
Source: Nar.realtor; 10/14/2021

Pennsylvania sees drastic decline in number of volunteer firefighters
Local fire companies are finding it increasingly hard to find volunteers these days. Across the state, active firefighters have decreased by more than 87% in recent decades. According to the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, in the 1970s, there were roughly 300,000 active firefighters across the state. Today, there are about 38,000. Factors behind the shortage include the amount of training and time required, as well as financial restrictions. Today, people often work far from their local station, and employers have become less willing to release an employee to fight a fire. Modern firefighters also have to be prepared to face terrorists and active shooters. “In Chester County and throughout most of Pennsylvania, fire companies and EMS agencies find ourselves in the same boat with a lack of funding, volunteers, and general lack of understanding of how the volunteer and combination departments operate,” said Captain Stephen Nuse of Avondale Fire Company. In addition to being short-staffed, all fire companies must raise their own operational funds, with the state providing a small amount of each department’s annual budget. The state funds are restricted to narrow expenses, such as fire safety training. Local municipalities do help with some costs. The pandemic has hampered fire companies’ fundraising efforts, and the companies do not receive any funds from county tax revenue. The majority of funds that enable fire departments to function are supported by the generous donations of community members. To retain volunteers, some stations offer tax credits, lodging in the fire station, life insurance policies, mortgages or tuition reimbursement. Some fire departments have taken the pressure off volunteers by adding career firefighters.
Source: Daily Local; 10/17/2021

Bucks County

Morrisville postpones vote on Williamson Park redevelopment; votes down EIT
Morrisville residents packed borough council chambers during a recent meeting to express opposition to two agenda items. The first is a plan to call Williamson Park “blighted” so that portions of it could be included in redevelopment plans for a $100 million multi-use development. Developer Select Morrisville LLC wants to transform the park into a mixed-use development consisting of more than 500 luxury apartments, a hotel, retail shops, restaurants and an amphitheater. Residents and Little Leaguers opposed to the project questioned how the only park in the borough could be considered “blighted.” The vote on the expansion of the redevelopment area was postponed after solicitor Scott Holbert said residents raised legitimate concerns about the vote procedure. The second agenda item that spurred opposition from attendees was a plan to enact an earned income tax. The measure was voted down 4-3.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/19/2021

Mail-in ballot questions? Check the Bucks FAQs
Mail-in and absentee ballots have gone out, ballot drop boxes are going up, and Bucks County’s first municipal election with mail-in voting is underway. As more ballots arrive in mailboxes, phones at the county Board of Elections office are lighting up, and many voters are asking similar questions. The Board of Elections has put together a brief set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
Source: Bucks County; 10/13/2021

Durham Township to hold special meeting for 2022 budget
The Durham Township Board of Supervisors will hold a special public meeting to conduct general township business, including but not limited to drafting the 2022 budget. This meeting will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 10 a.m. at the Durham Township Municipal Office, 215 Old Furnace Road. Check the township website for more information about the 2022 budget.
Source: The Intelligencer; 10/15/2021

‘Bucks2040’ open houses offer first comp plan updates since 2011
The Bucks County Planning Commission is hosting a series of open house meetings to give the public a chance to help shape a shared vision for the county's future. The meetings will feature displays explaining the Bucks2040 comprehensive plan and data on important trends since the last plan update in 2011. The remaining meetings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 27: Lower Makefield Township Office, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley
  • Tuesday, Nov. 16: Warrington Township Administration Office, 852 Easton Road

The update to the 2011 comprehensive plan aims to set a direction for future policies and programs, focusing on the quality-of-life issues that are most important to Bucks County residents and that will help their communities achieve better land-use outcomes.
Source: Doylestown Patch; 10/19/2021

PA agencies warn anglers not to eat fish from Neshaminy Creek basin
The Pennsylvania departments of environmental protection, agriculture and health, along with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, announced a “Do Not Eat” advisory for all fish species caught in the Neshaminy Creek basin in Bucks and Montgomery counties due to extremely high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The advisory extends to all fish throughout the Neshaminy Creek basin, including Neshaminy Creek State Park and Tyler State Park. Click here for the press release.
Source: Plumstead Township e-notification; 10/2021

Chester County 

Judge rejects Tower’s request for property tax exemptions
Tower Health’s bid for property tax exemptions for three of its Chester County Hospitals — Brandywine, Jennersville and Phoenixville — has been rejected by a judge who ruled the hospitals are more aligned with for-profit companies. The 44-page ruling by Judge Jeffrey Sommer of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas is a huge victory for the Avon Grove, Phoenixville and Coatesville school districts. Officials of those school districts said the ruling averts a loss of millions in revenue and could have necessitated a huge tax increase. Alan Fegley, superintendent of Phoenixville Area School District, said, “This saves the taxpayers of Phoenixville nearly $1 million per year in annual taxes, which should rightfully be paid by the hospital.” The ruling is a setback for Tower Health as it works to stem recent losses. Tower lost nearly $80 million from January through March of this year. It was an improvement over the previous quarter, when it lost nearly $111 million. Only Reading Hospital did not lose money in fiscal 2021, which ended June 30. In a cost-cutting move, Tower is set to close Jennersville Hospital by the end of the year and is selling Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia. In the ruling, Sommer concluded the three Chester County hospitals did not qualify for property tax exemptions because they do not provide nearly enough free services, they cooperate financially with doctors at for-profit practices and structure lucrative executive compensation packages. Lucrative bonus plans that are tied to financial performance disqualified the hospitals from a tax exemption, the judge ruled.
Source: Daily Local; 10/20/2021

$1.2M slated for affordable senior housing in Phoenixville
A project to bring 50 affordable senior housing units to the Borough of Phoenixville is on track to receive nearly $1.2 million in tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency. The state agency announced that more than $1.18 million in low-income housing tax credits has been conditionally reserved for the Hankin Group’s proposal to build 46 one-bedroom and four two-bedroom affordable housing units at 115 Buchanan St. in Phoenixville. The units, reserved for those age 62 and older, will be available to people at or below 60% of the area median income. The new apartment community, estimated to be about 54,000 total square feet, is envisioned as a place where residents can maintain an active lifestyle within a safe, walkable and welcoming downtown, and with public transportation nearby. The Phoenixville project comes as part of more than $43.6 million in low-income housing tax credits announced for 37 affordable housing developments statewide.
Source: Daily Local; 10/18/2021

Lawmakers get firsthand look at businesses impacted by COVID during Phoenixville tour
State lawmakers recently participated in a hearing on the business impact of COVID-19 prior to a tour of Phoenixville. During a formal hearing, municipal leaders and small business owners spoke of operating through the pandemic, despite hardships. “The Borough of Phoenixville provides a rich case study for how a community of business owners, nonprofit organizations and residents came together to preserve its main street through the challenges of COVID-19,” said state Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157). During a tour of downtown Phoenixville small businesses, state House members spoke with owners who worked with local government to make sure that the pandemic restrictions didn’t lead to closure.
Source: Daily Local; 10/20/2021

Chester asks receiver to approve water authority purchase by Aqua
Chester City Council unanimously voted to ask the city’s receiver to approve a $410 million asset purchase agreement with Aqua for the assets of the Chester Water Authority. Aqua has agreed to give an additional $12 million to the city, regardless of the outcome of ongoing litigation over whether the city has the ability to sell the authority. Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said the city will receive these funds immediately upon the receiver’s approval of the asset purchase agreement. Earlier this month, state Reps. John Lawrence (R-13), of Chester and Lancaster counties, and Leanne Krueger (D-161), of Delaware County, introduced H.B. 1936, a provision that would amend Section 1329 of the Public Utilities Law to prohibit the sale of municipal water or wastewater systems to private companies using the valuation procedure outlined there unless the system is in financial and/or operational distress. The bill has been referred to the House Consumer Affairs Committee. The Chester Water Authority serves 41,000 customers, equating to more than 200,000 people, in Chester City, western Delaware County and parts of Chester County.
Source: Daily Times; 10/14/2021

West Chester Borough considers vaccine mandate
West Chester Borough is considering enacting a vaccination policy that will require all borough employees to take the shot. Those refusing to be vaccinated — and not receiving an exemption for medical or religious reasons — “will be considered to have voluntarily resigned from borough employment,” according to the solicitor’s draft of the ordinance. Employees not waiting on an exemption request and who fail to meet applicable deadlines for vaccination may be put on an up to 30-day long unpaid absence and then discharged. New hires will be required to submit proof of vaccination prior to employment or they must have been granted an exemption prior to starting employment. The policy will be discussed and negotiated with both labor unions, which represent members of the public works, parking, dispatch and police departments.
Source: Daily Local; 10/14/2021

Delaware County

Chester asks receiver to approve water authority purchase by Aqua
Chester City Council unanimously voted to ask the city’s receiver to approve a $410 million asset purchase agreement with Aqua for the assets of the Chester Water Authority. Aqua has agreed to give an additional $12 million to the city, regardless of the outcome of ongoing litigation over whether the city has the ability to sell the authority. Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said the city will receive these funds immediately upon the receiver’s approval of the asset purchase agreement. Earlier this month, state Reps. John Lawrence (R-13), of Chester and Lancaster counties, and Leanne Krueger (D-161), of Delaware County, introduced H.B. 1936, a provision that would amend Section 1329 of the Public Utilities Law to prohibit the sale of municipal water or wastewater systems to private companies using the valuation procedure outlined there unless the system is in financial and/or operational distress. The bill has been referred to the House Consumer Affairs Committee. The Chester Water Authority serves 41,000 customers, equating to more than 200,000 people, in Chester City, western Delaware County and parts of Chester County.
Source: Daily Times; 10/14/2021

Upper Darby’s interior inspection list is voluntary for now, but may become mandatory
Upper Darby Township’s resale certification form includes a section on interior items, but the section is currently only for reference purposes. Sellers may voluntarily choose to review the items listed, but the township does not conduct an interior inspection. However, township staff have informed Suburban Realtors Alliance that Upper Darby has plans to expand the use and occupancy inspection to include the interior portions of a property. The Alliance has expressed concern about the possible expansion of inspection items. For more information on Upper Darby’s resale inspection process, consult the Alliance’s municipal database. If you have specific questions, contact the Alliance at sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

Ballot boxes now open across Delaware County
Drop boxes have opened around Delaware County to receive more than 35,000 mail-in, absentee, and military or overseas ballots requested for the 2021 municipal general election. There are 42 boxes scattered around the county, most of which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2. Some boxes will only be open for limited hours and days. Each drop box is locked, sealed and under around-the-clock video surveillance by Delaware County Park Police to monitor for tampering or fraud. Voters can also choose to simply mail their ballots in — no postage is required in either method. The list of drop box locations is available on the Delco Votes website, along with other information and tips on how to cast ballots. The county also has an election hotline at 610-891-VOTE that is staffed weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Source: Daily Times; 10/15/2021

Darby Borough Brownfields Inventory concludes
The Delaware County Planning Department has completed an inventory of potential brownfields in Darby Borough and released a report. A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The community will be able to use the report to apply for funding to address and remediate the brownfield sites. The county is planning a public meeting this fall to discuss the report. Read more and view an interactive map of the brownfield sites on the planning department website.
Source: Delaware County Planning Department; 9/2021

Montgomery County

Norristown council moves lead paint ordinance forward
On Oct. 19, Norristown Municipal Council voted unanimously to advertise a proposed ordinance requiring lead paint testing for all rental properties and homes being sold in the municipality. Prior to the vote, council heard from several environmental experts who outlined the need for lead paint testing in the community, as the occurrence of lead poisoning in children under six is higher in Norristown than any other community in the state, including Philadelphia. The problem is exacerbated by the high percentage (95.6%) of properties in Norristown that were built prior to 1978, when the US banned the manufacture of lead-based house paint. Under the current draft of the proposed ordinance, homes rented after Jan. 1, 2022, will need to go through an initial inspection to determine whether the property is either “lead free” or “lead safe.” Homes being sold after Jan. 1, 2022, will need to be inspected to determine the same. Owner-occupied homes that are found to have lead paint will not be treated as a “substantial violation” under Act 133 of 2016 — meaning a new buyer will be able to receive a temporary occupancy certificate and occupy the home with 12 months to make the repairs. The Alliance will meet with council to further discuss certain aspects of the proposed ordinance, as well as ongoing customer service issues in the municipality. 

SEPTA’s King of Prussia rail proposal gains entry into federal funding program
SEPTA's plan to extend rail service to King of Prussia has gained entry into the Federal Transportation Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program. The program appropriates funds under its New Starts program, which provides $2.3 billion annually for rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects across the country. The proposed $2 billion King of Prussia rail line would connect Center City and University City in Philadelphia to King of Prussia. SEPTA has said it will seek up to 50% of the project’s funding from the New Starts program.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 10/11/2021

Norristown approves zoning update to allow 192-apartment development
Norristown Municipal Council voted at its Sept. 21 work session to approve Ordinance 21-10, a zoning text amendment to add “additional flexibility in the form and type of residential developments” in the multi-family residential district. The 4-0 vote advances a plan from developer Prosov LLC that calls for a four-story elevator apartment with 192 units and 267 parking spaces, 89 2.5-story townhouses for rent with 89 parking spaces, and 90 units in two-, three- and four-story multiplexes for sale with 212 parking spaces.
Source: Norristown Patch; 9/21/2021

Worcester Township to meet on comprehensive plan update
Worcester Township is hosting a Comprehensive Plan Update Open House on Wednesday, Oct. 27, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Worcester Township Community Hall, 1031 Valley Forge Road. The Comprehensive Plan Task Force will present an overview of some of the recommended updates to the township’s comprehensive plan, a document that will serve as a guide for the township’s future. See more details in the event flyer.
Source: Worcester Township; 10/2021

PA agencies warn anglers not to eat fish from Neshaminy Creek basin
The Pennsylvania departments of environmental protection, agriculture and health, along with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, announced a “Do Not Eat” advisory for all fish species caught in the Neshaminy Creek basin in Bucks and Montgomery counties due to extremely high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The advisory extends to all fish throughout the Neshaminy Creek basin, including Neshaminy Creek State Park and Tyler State Park. Click here for the press release.
Source: Plumstead Township e-notification; 10/2021

Philadelphia

West Philly subsidized townhomes to be sold, displacing dozens of families
The owners of University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia have plans to sell the property. Dozens of families rent federally subsidized townhouses at the location. The property owner, IBID Associates LP, gave the required one-year notice to 69 households and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in July that it would not renew its Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments contract. According to HUD, the contract expires in 2022. Hundreds of similar federal contracts around the city are scheduled to expire within the next few years if they are not renewed. Philadelphia has nearly 11,600 HUD-subsidized housing units at privately owned and managed properties. Click here to read more.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/18/2021

Opinion: As city council crafts Philly’s redistricting plan, transparency and public input are crucial
Philadelphia City Council is preparing for its once-a-decade round of redistricting. In one of the quirks of the city charter, councilmembers have a distinct incentive for completing the process in a timely manner — their paychecks. If council fails to redraw the legislative maps that define representation in the city by a specified deadline, which for this cycle is March 12, 2022, members won’t be paid. With that kind of motivation, it would be hard to imagine that any legislative body would even think of missing the deadline, but that’s what happened in 1991 and 2001. In 2011, council met the deadline, but critics of that year’s process questioned whether the public had been given sufficient opportunities to weigh in, and broader forms of engagement like community surveys were not utilized. While the city charter imposes a rigid deadline for drawing the new districts, it doesn’t have a strict mandate that councilmembers must include anyone else in the decision-making. That means the most important discussions about the city’s legislative boundaries largely occur in the absence of public input and scrutiny. So far this year, council has scheduled no public meetings nor has it sought feedback from everyday Philadelphians. At its core, redistricting aims to divide the city’s population into 10 districts with a roughly equal number of residents. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/20/2021

Philly remains one of the most racially segregated cities in America
Persistent residential segregation makes Philadelphia one of the country’s most racially divided cities. An Inquirer analysis of 2020 census data shows that almost no matter which groups you look at, and using multiple ways of measuring segregation, Philly is one of the most stubbornly divided metropolitan areas in a rapidly diversifying and increasingly integrated country. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/19/2021

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