MERCER COUNTY Proposed trust program would plant seed money for affordable housing

A proposed Affordable Housing Trust could provide a local match to bring in state and federal construction dollars.
MERCER, Pa. -- New home construction and the rehabilitation of houses in Mercer County would get a helping hand under a proposed Affordable Housing Trust program.
The trust would be a pool of funds that nonprofit groups and others interested in building affordable homes for low-income families as well as those doing rehabilitation work on housing stock can use as "seed" money to launch their projects.
It would be a county program, and the Mercer County commissioners are scheduled to vote on it Thursday.
"It's meant to encourage new dollars into the county and new [housing] units," said Ronald Errett, chief executive officer of the Mercer County Community Action Agency.
Errett and L. DeWitt Boosel, executive director of the Mercer County Housing Authority, and Dennis Puko, executive director of the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission, put the program together at the county's request.
County's decision: State legislation allowing individual counties to set up affordable housing trust funds was passed in 1992 but only 40 of the state's 67 counties have started them, Boosel said.
They can be used as the county dictates for such things for new construction, rental housing, rehabilitation or even housing counseling, he said.
Mercer County's fund would be financed by a $13 fee added to each real estate transfer recorded in the county Recorder of Deeds office, Boosel said, estimating that it could generate as much as $200,000 a year.
There won't be any specific limits on how much money a developer could draw from the fund but Puko, whose agency would administer the program, pointed out it isn't intended to provide financing for entire projects.
Rather, grants from the fund are to be used to "leverage" grant and loan funds from various state and federal housing programs, he said. The fund could provide the local match often required to secure those government funds, he said.
Organizations: Small nonprofit groups that might want to build homes might have a difficult time finding that local match without this program, he said.
The program won't be available to individuals who want to build a house, Errett said. It targets organizations and developers interested in building or improving affordable housing, he said.
The county commissioners will determine when it starts but Errett said the plan was to let the fund accumulate for a year before any money is removed.
Shenango Valley Initiative, a community, congregation-based organization involved in a variety of community activities, supports the program.
"We think it's a very reasonable way to collect money for a trust," said Dr. Thomas Hawkins, SVI executive vice president. It's something the county could have enacted years ago, he said.
Boosel said applications for funds from the county trust would be reviewed by an advisory board but the final decision would rest with the commissioners.

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