At last count, Greene County has 559 active Marcellus Shale gas wells, the sixth-highest number in Pennsylvania.
The commensurate influx of out-of-state workers has seriously impacted the county’s housing market, particularly the rental market for lower income families. Landlords who previously rented their properties to these families are now charging rents to drillers that are two to three times higher.
And this has resulted in a severe decline in the number of affordable rental properties for Greene County residents and for some, a descent into homelessness.
It must be noted, however, that the county has not stood idly by while these changes have happened. It established the Greene County Housing Team, a group of key housing officials, which determined two years ago that the greatest need within the Greene community was for increased rental housing for seniors. And we learned last week that persistence has truly paid off because the developers of a planned four-story apartment building for seniors at the corner of High and East streets in Waynesburg has been awarded $878,050 in federal tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
The awarding of the tax credits is necessary to complete financing for the estimated $10 million project.
PIRHL Developers LLC of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, proposes to construct the apartment building, to be called Gateway Senior Housing, on the north side of High Street, between High and Nazer streets. The building will contain 52 one-and-two-bedroom apartments and a large community room, and is designed for independent seniors, ages 62 or older, whose income is about 60 percent or less of the median income for the county.
And we use the word “persistence” because the project received the necessary zoning permits from the Waynesburg Borough Zoning Hearing Board in October 2012. Waynesburg Borough Council also showed its support for the project by then agreeing to contribute $10,000 a year to it for five years. However, PIRHL had applied for the tax credits last year but failed to receive them.
Scott Elliott, director of communications for PHFA, said this year 74 projects were submitted for tax credits, but only 24 received them. The program is very competitive and it’s not unusual for developers to apply for the credits in successive years, he explained.
Also last week, Greene Commissioner Chuck Morris testified before the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, telling them that funds from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund have enabled the county to expand affordable housing options, pointing out that the county in 2012 received $600,000 and $1.1 million in 2013. The county used $600,000 of that $1.1 million 2013 allotment for the redevelopment authority to supplement an acquisition, demolition and rehabilitation program initiated the year before. And $514,164 was earmarked for the Accessible Dreams quadruplex planned in Jefferson Borough. This four-unit structure will contain two fully accessible two-bedroom units on the ground floor for those with mobility issues and two additional two-bedroom units on the second floor for those in need of affordable rental housing.
Morris urged the senators to establish a $25 million annual investment in the State Housing Trust Fund through a dedicated revenue source, so other communities within Pennsylvania can replicate the success Greene has had in providing its residents with affordable housing.