MERCER COUNTY Housing authority board lowers utility allowances

A reduction in the utility allowance means higher rent payments.
SHARON, Pa. -- Most Mercer County Housing Authority tenants will see their monthly rent rise next month.
It's not a general rent increase but a reduction in tenants' utility allowances that will put a few more dollars into the authority's coffers.
The authority board voted Wednesday to reduce the utility allowance which means tenants have to contribute more toward their rental payments, said L. DeWitt Boosel, executive director.
How it works: It's a trade-off, he said, explaining that tenants either pay the money to the utility companies for their services or to the authority as rent.
Elderly tenants don't get a utility allowance because the authority pays their utility costs, he said.
The authority sets rental rates for subsidized housing at 30 percent of a tenant's income.
However, because those tenants pay their own gas, electric and water bills, they are allotted a monthly allowance that is deducted from their rent.
The allowance went up last year as natural gas prices rose sharply, reducing the amount tenants had to pay for rent, but gas prices have declined and the allowances are being lowered accordingly, Boosel said.
The allowance amount differs from apartment complex to apartment complex and even by the number of bedrooms an apartment has, he said.
He cited a typical two-bedroom apartment in the Steel City Terrace complex in Farrell as an example, explaining that last year's utility allowance was $107 per month but has now been reduced to $93 a month.
Also on agenda: In other business, the board:
UAnnounced plans for a grand opening at 4 p.m. May 22 at the new Quinby Street Service Center which serves as a police substation as well as home to a variety of social and educational service programs for authority tenants.
UApproved a plan to buy properties adjacent to Steel City Terrace as part of a $28 million Hope VI redevelopment of that complex. Boosel said the authority has purchased 31 lots so far to expand into the surrounding community in an effort to abolish the traditional apartment complex boundaries.
The 100-unit, barracks-style complex will be replaced with 145 apartments and single-family houses over a wider area.
None of the apartments will be in more than a duplex or triplex and each will have its own separate entrance and small back yard.
The plan calls for vacant lots to be purchased first, followed by lots with vacant structures on them and then occupied structures as needed.
The plan must be approved by the Department of Housing & amp; Urban Development and shows $199,000 to be spent to buy properties.

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