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Legacy affordable housing proposal heads to public hearing

A Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors vote has sent a proposed workforce housing ordinance amendment to a public hearing.

The vote came Monday after board discussion on the amendment, which seeks to create a legacy affordable housing program, keeping homes built as workforce housing at a low cost for those who need them.

The board discussed the possibility of a legacy program in February, saying the current workforce housing ordinance as written is “once and done” in the township’s zoning ordinance — a buyer qualifies for affordable housing and moves in. After that, when it goes to the next buyer, it goes at a market rate.

The idea would be to keep an inventory of units in a development master plan, township Manager Mark Kunkle said, so the unit, though it may be worth more due to inflation, would remain affordable for the next buyer.

Current affordable housing units are only governed by a few regulations, township Assistant Manager David Pribulka said, including a prohibition on being segregated or clustered, that they must be sold at an affordable rate and can’t differ from market rate units on the outside.

Working with the Centre County Housing and Land Trust, the Centre Region Planning Agency and surrounding municipalities, he said, staff was able to draft an amendment that establishes the minimum requirements of a legacy program.

While the ordinance does require the unit to be the principal place of occupancy, he said, there are fewer provisions that other municipal workforce housing ordinances may offer, such as a fee in lieu of workforce housing or offsite development.

This does accomplish the goal that these units remain in their affordable stock.

Assistant Township Manager David Pribulka

“This does accomplish the goal that these units remain in their affordable stock,” Pribulka said.

According to the amendment, the continuity of workforce housing units will be ensured for a period of 99 years with a restriction placed on the deed of the property. Prospective buyers will enter into a legally binding agreement with the administrator of the program who will also certify the buyers.

The township planning commission voted unanimously to recommend disapproval of the amendment, Pribulka said, saying it would not be sustainable and would take on a life of its own. The program would disincentivize the proper maintenance of a property as the owner wouldn’t have the chance to develop the same equity as a market rate unit.

The Centre Region Planning Agency unanimously supported the amendment, he said, requesting that the township also look at alternate ways to provide for affordable housing stock, including rentals and smaller-scale dwelling units.

For now, the traditional town development district is the only zone that requires workforce housing, he said. Affordable housing is also incentivized in the terraced streetscape district.

Pribulka added that the amendment would be incorporated into the zoning ordinance as part of a district regulation, which could be applied to any zoning district. If a future board were to require or incentivize workforce housing in any other zoning district, the provisions would apply.

The public hearing will likely be held in April.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews