The need for housing in Greene County was a much-talked-about issue several years ago.
Studies indicated the county had a shortage of adequate housing at a time when the boom in the natural gas industry was starting to take hold and workers were expected to flock to the area in droves for new jobs.
The need for housing was important enough to be cited as an issue by the majority of candidates who ran for county commissioner in the spring 2011 primary.
Since that time, however, the urgency seems to have subsided.
It’s true several developments have surfaced since then: a developer announced plans last fall to build a 51-unit senior housing complex in Waynesburg, and in March the county completed renovations of a building to create six apartments for the temporarily homeless.
But it seems housing is no longer the issue of the day. And though some drop-off in the natural gas industry has occurred, we are aware of nothing that has happened to make us believe the county no longer has a housing shortage.
So we were pleased to hear the county redevelopment authority is moving ahead with a housing program. The program, developed by authority executive director David Mirkovich, could be described as modest, but we believe it is a good start, especially at a time state and federal grants are scarce.
The program will make use of properties that are now underutilized, including vacant and blighted houses and vacant land. Five houses will be rehabilitated and eight will be built under the plan.
It’s interesting to note one way the authority will save money in implementing the program is to purchase properties from the county’s tax repository. These are tax-delinquent properties that have failed to sell either at tax sales or at subsequent judicial sales.
They can be purchased for a nominal amount. The authority, which has already purchased several properties, has usually offered a bid of $50 for each parcel. Other properties the authority plans to purchase are now either up for judicial sale or in foreclosure.
To get the program off the ground, the authority has applied for a $600,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act program. It also has received commitments of money, contingent on the receipt of grant funding, from the county and at least two municipalities.
We can think of several reasons to support the program.
The program will provide 13 homes in which families can live.
Most of the properties that will be used have generated no tax revenue for schools and local governments for years. If the program is successful, houses will be built or improved and returned to the tax rolls.
Renovating the existing houses will benefit the surrounding community. All of the houses to be purchased are in poor condition, which detracts from the character of their neighborhoods and lessens the value of nearby homes.
If everything goes as planned, the program also could eventually become self-sufficient. The authority hopes to sell the houses once they are completed and make money on the transactions, money that can be used to purchase and rehabilitate additional properties to continue the program.