Good Life

9 questions with the State College Community Land Trust’s Susan Venegoni

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Susan Venegoni is the president of the State College Community Land Trust board of directors.

The trust helps to secure affordable housing for people who want to make their home in the Borough of State College. Over the past 20 years, the trust has accumulated just shy of 40 different properties and worked with 55 different households.

Below, Venegoni talks about where she sees the SCCLT going in the next 20 years.

Q: When and why did you become involved with the SCCLT?

A: I started volunteering with the SCCLT in 2012. I had taken an extended break from working and volunteering to care for my dad while he was ill. When he passed away in late 2011, I wanted to get back into working in the community as I had done since moving here in 1995. I am a long-standing advocate of affordable housing and am involved in various efforts to further borough neighborhood initiatives. I had heard about the SCCLT and the work they were doing and when I was asked to join the board, I happily accepted.

Q: How do you think the SCCLT has evolved over the past 20 years?

A: We have increased the number of homes in the program steadily throughout the time we have been in operation, and now have almost 40 homes, located in the Borough of State College. We have served 55 households to date. Internally, we have worked hard to increase our outreach methods and capabilities to reach the people who could take advantage of the services we offer, and to educate the community about the work we do. Our volunteer base has grown and includes people from diverse backgrounds, professions and life experiences. In 2015, we became a Centre County United Way Partner Agency. We are working with PSU, the borough and other dedicated partners as we pursue our newest endeavor, our Greenbuild project. We are always moving forward.

Q: Who would you consider to be your target audience?

A: For applicants, our target audience is individuals or families who fall within minimum and maximum income limits established annually by HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). The income limits are based on the family size and area median income data. Currently, SCCLT applicants are eligible if they fall within the low/moderate income guidelines. With Greenbuild, we will branch out into the middle income category, which is exciting for us. There are currently very few affordable homes for buyers in that income level. We work with people who want to live near work, school, public transit, shopping, campus and all the amenities State College has to offer, but who also may feel living in the borough is out of their reach financially.

Q: What is one thing that usually surprises people about the SCCLT?

A: My immediate response is yes, you can own a home in the borough. Applicants who are paying rent are stunned sometimes when they see that they can afford to own a home for less than they are paying to rent. Another thing that surprises people is that we have homes in every borough neighborhood. And my favorite surprise: We have never had a single foreclosure in the history of the program.

Q: What does home ownership represent to you? Why do you think it is important to a community like this one?

A: To me, home ownership is a life accomplishment and a big part of personal financial success. It represents independence and freedom to carve out a place of your own. It is also a commitment, for the owner(s), the families and to the community … someone is ready to put down roots and build a life here. A diverse neighborhood is a healthier, sustainable, safer and more stable neighborhood.

Q: When the SCCLT purchases a new house, in what kind of condition is it typically found?

A: It varies from house to house, but generally, the houses we buy need some work. We need to buy homes that are priced so they remain affordable to the people who will be buying them. What other buyers may see as a problem, we see as an opportunity. Our Real Estate and Rehab Committee is adept at finding properties that fit our needs and that are desirable and affordable for new homeowners.

Q: What kind of work goes into rehabilitating each home before a new owner takes over? What is the final goal?

A: Again, it varies from house to house, but our homes are professionally inspected and brought up to code and mitigation of known hazards such as lead or radon is completed. All of the home’s systems are tested and replaced or upgraded as needed. We strive to increase energy efficiency, to help the environment, but also to assist with long-term affordability for the owners. Finally, cosmetic upgrades to the home — such as painting or yard work — are completed, often with help from the buyers, community volunteers and student groups.

Q: Has there been a moment or a memory during your time with the SCCLT that sticks out as feeling particularly rewarding or worthwhile?

A: The look on the new owners’ faces when they are handed the keys to their first home is such a great moment. A substantial amount of time and effort goes into the process of transitioning from applicant to homeowner, and playing a small part in assisting new owners as they take possession of their first home is my favorite part of volunteering for the SCCLT.

Q: Where would you like to see the SCCLT in another 20 years?

A: Of course, I would like to see us grow and have the capacity to fully meet the unmet and growing need for local affordable home ownership opportunities. It takes effort and work to turn a house into a home or to transition from an applicant to a homeowner, so growing at an appropriate pace to sustain the high quality of the program and its services is paramount. I want to continue what we are doing, while exploring and taking advantage of new opportunities as they develop.

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