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Housing seed money grows in special fund



Published: Mon, July 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



0The county wants the fund to build up for at least a year before opening it to developers.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- There's more than $90,000 sitting in Mercer County's Affordable Housing Trust set up to provide seed money to help build homes for low-income families, but no one's lining up for those funds yet.

The program, created by the Mercer County commissioners in October, had accumulated $91,655 as of May 30.

It's funded by a $13 fee added to each real estate transfer recorded in the Mercer County Recorder of Deeds office and was originally expected to generate about $200,000 a year.

A more realistic figure, based on current housing market trends, would appear to be between $120,000 and $150,000 annually, said Dennis Puko, executive director of the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission, which will run the trust for the county.

For groups, developers

It's not available to individuals who want to build homes but is designed to provide a pool of grant money that can be used by nonprofit groups and developers who want to build affordable homes for low-income families or rehabilitate housing stock.

It's not a large enough source of revenue to fund an entire project, but it will be an effective amount of money to act as leverage to bring in other development funds, Puko said, noting it could be used as the local match often required by state and federal grant and loan programs.

The program isn't quite ready to begin looking at applications, he said.

When it was created, the decision was made to allow the fund to accumulate the real estate transfer fees for a year to provide a decent pool of money, Puko said.

Although his agency will administer the program, it will be aided by an advisory committee, which the county commissioners have yet to appoint. It will help screen applications and make funding recommendations.

The county commissioners will make the final decision on any funding requests, Puko said.

The money could help fund several projects or it could all be tapped by a single development, if that project can show a solid benefit to the community and the ability to draw in other money, he added.

Replenishment

The fund will replenish itself through the real estate transfer fees.

State legislation allowing counties to set up affordable housing trust programs was enacted in 1992 and only about 40 of the state's 66 counties have started them.

Mercer County's program was put together by Puko; L. DeWitt Boosel, executive director of the Mercer County Housing Authority; and Ronald Errett, chief executive officer of the Mercer County Community Action Agency.

Boosel said the state allows a county to dictate how the trust can be used for projects such as new construction, rehabilitation, rental housing and even housing counseling.

Mercer County's effort is meant to bring new dollars and new housing units into the county, Errett said.

gwin@vindy.com




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