PHARE funding, which is supported by natural gas impact fees, was used for the construction of these townhouses in New Milford (top) and Forest City (above) in Susquehanna County.
In 2020, Pennsylvania made nearly $46-million in PHARE funding available for housing programs across the state. The Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement fund was created in 2010 to provide a vehicle by which housing assistance could be managed. Since 2013, a portion of fees collected from active drilling operations have been allocated to support the PHARE program via Marcellus Shale Impact Fee legislation allocated.
Conventional thinking of the time was that the money put into the PHARE fund from natural gas producers was a logical way to offset a shortage of housing experienced in some communities when new companies brought workers from other states. A lot has changed since then, especially the composition of our workforce, which now includes a higher percentage of locally-trained employees.
But the need for affordable housing continues, and we are happy to see some of these fees come back to the area at a time when homeowners and renters are facing new challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s an effective manner of getting new homes finished or renovated, get eligible buyers into homes, and to help counties offset the costs of housing projects for low- to moderate-income residents.
In Bradford County, the PHARE program is managed by the commissioners’ chief clerk, Michelle Shedden. Of $750,000 received last year, $600,000 was given to Trehab for a home-buyer’s assistance program. Trehab executive director Dennis Phillips credits the Bradford County Commissioners for coming up with a plan to rescue old housing stock, rather than build new homes. “The commissioners were concerned that someone might buy a home and not be able to afford the repairs. That would be a declining situation,” Phillips explained. PHARE funding is used for replacing roofs and furnaces and upgrading electricity, “so they’ll have a house in pretty good shape as they move forward.”
The remaining $150,000 was earmarked for the county’s homeless assistance program which, Shedden explained, provides for families in the county who need help with rent, utilities, or a deposit for a new rental.
Bradford County also provides funds from the homeless assistance account for inmates who are eligible for release but have no home plan. “This allows the inmate to stay in a support house for four months,” Shedden related. “During their stay, they are required to get a job, go to meetings and follow a strict process to help them return to the general population.”
In Wyoming county, the PHARE program is wholly managed by Trehab. The focus in that smaller and less populated county is on homeowner assistance. The $126,000 received this past year helps those meeting income guidelines get up to $10,000 for a down payment and money to cover closing costs.
The Susquehanna County Housing & Redevelopment Authority (H&RA) handles PHARE funding there, receiving $995,000 last year. Much of the money has been earmarked for the construction of three duplex ranch-style homes in the Hallstead area that will produce six affordable homes, primarily for elderly residents who want to downsize but are uncomfortable about living in a project-type setting.
“The Marcellus shale PHARE funds have been extremely beneficial in providing affordable housing to Susquehanna County residents,” said H&RA grants administrator Bobbi Jo Turner. “Over the past few years, six units have been built in New Milford, six in Forest City and countless residents have been assisted with housing rehabilitation and rental and utility assistance.”