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Ferguson Township OKs legacy affordable housing program

Workforce housing in Ferguson Township found a more secure future Monday as the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a legacy affordable housing program within the township zoning ordinance.

The issue was originally raised last year when supervisors at the time agreed that a legacy program would be desirable. Township Manager Mark Kunkle described the current affordable housing ordinance as a “once and done” affair in February.

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 of the legacy program would be to keep an inventory of units in a development master plan, he said, so the unit, though it may be worth more due to inflation, would remain affordable for the next buyer.

Workforce housing is defined by the township as housing affordable to someone earning between 80 and 120 percent of the median housing income range in Centre County according to census data. The program was voted to move to public hearing last month.

According to township Assistant Manager Dave Pribulka, 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.

Planning Commission alternate Bill Keough spoke during the hearing, reiterating that the commission, while supportive of affordable housing, was not in favor of the program in its current form. The commission was concerned that a 99-year legacy would be unsustainable, he said.

Keough’s primary concerns were centered on housing maintenance, saying that over 99 years, numerous items like roofs, heating systems and appliances would need to be replaced several times. The first buyer of the new house would have all the advantages, while subsequent buyers may not have the incentive to maintain the house.

Evidence of other affordable housing developments show this isn’t the case, Pribulka said. Wear and tear is applicable to any units, and the market rate is adjusted in most cases.

Chairman Steve Miller agreed, saying just because a house is part of the affordable housing market, if it needs $20,000 worth of work, it will be worth less and can be negotiated as such.

Targeting higher density is a critical strategy that will bring workforce housing to local developments, Supervisor Rita Graef said. Supervisor Peter Buckland agreed, saying the government has to act on behalf of the people to ensure a stock of affordable housing is available to reliable people who deserve it.

The board voted unanimously to enact the legacy program ordinance.

In a second related public hearing, the board also voted unanimously to appoint the Centre County Housing and Land Trust to act as the third-party administrator of the project.

As developments are proposed and approved, Pribulka said, the township, developer and land trust would enter into a three-part agreement. One provision will require that the developer place in escrow a certain sum of money determined by the land trust.

As affordable units are sold, he said, the appropriate amount would be paid as part of the buyer’s closing costs. That portion would be returned from the escrow to the developer. The cost would also include operating expenses for the land trust.

According to the board, the agreement between the township and the land trust will remain in effect indefinitely unless terminated.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews