Affordable housing advocates meet to brainstorm ideas

Centre County has a breadth of organizations and resources to help people find housing, but they don’t always get a chance to come together and share ideas, said John Henderson, of Housing Co(Lab).

Thursday they got that chance.

“The idea of Housing Co(Lab) is to create that kind of melting pot of people and resources,” Henderson said.

The group invited a variety of organizations — housing authorities, county government agencies and credit unions — designed to create a group to run the gamut of housing issues from homelessness to affordable housing availability for those looking to buy a home.

It held its initial meet-and greet-event at the New Leaf Initiative’s headquarters in the State College Municipal Building.

Coordinator Rachel Fawcett said the group will take all ideas from the initial meeting and meet in a month to create a plan of action for the next steps. She worked closely on the project with Henderson, Kendra Gettig with Co(Lab) and Eric Sauder, co-director of New Leaf Initiative.

Fawcett said the issue has come to the forefront with the Hotel Do De fire in Bellefonte, the closure of two Centre Region mobile home parks and the announced closure of a third.

After attending an affordable housing summit last year, Fawcett said the group of young people knew that affordable housing was an issue that needed more attention, she said.

“It doesn’t exist,” she said of the local options. “And what does exist is hard to find or isn’t the best.”

The event also was a chance for homeless people to talk to local officials about options.

Olivia Scoggins, 22, has been without a permanent residence for two weeks.

In and out of foster homes and local shelters, Scoggins has been staying with the local Out of the Cold program for the last 10 days, but when it ends, she doesn’t have a concrete plan.

She said she has not been able to pass a credit check to get an approved apartment lease even though she has been working part-time at a restaurant since 2012.

Scoggins is trying to get a housing voucher from the Centre County Housing Authority, but she’s not certain it will come through by the end of Out of the Cold on April 27.

“If I don’t get it Monday morning, I’m basically homeless,” she said.

Even if she gets the assistance, she said there aren’t a lot of options in the State College area, and moving to Bellefonte of Philipsburg would make it very difficult to commute to work.

For county Adult Services Director Natalie Corman, hearing from people such as Scoggins or others with housing issues helps the agencies develop a more comprehensive program.

She said it’s easy to identify the needs but harder to execute programs exactly to those needs. Corman added that the range of issues and professionals represented exemplify how it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

“It really shows that housing is a complex issue,” she said.