Commissioners join HUD in committing to increasing county’s affordable housing

With 350 homes affordable for low- to moderate-income families planned or recently completed, Chester County has joined a growing number of cities and counties nationwide to sign onto the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) House America program, an all-hands-on-deck effort to address the nation’s homelessness crisis.

The Chester County Commissioners presented a proclamation to representatives from HUD recently, who in turn thanked the commissioners for their commitment to working toward housing more of the county’s homeless residents.

“Homelessness continues to impact over 400 residents in our County on any given night, with additional households impacted by disasters,” said County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “A lack of affordable housing remains a barrier to the health, safety, well-being, employment, and education for these individuals and their families. That is why Chester County is committed to placing 150 households experiencing homelessness into stable housing, and to add 350 new affordable rental units to our development pipeline.”

House America, launched on September 20, 2021 by HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, is a partnership among HUD, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), states, communities, and local leaders to respond with urgency to address the crisis of homelessness.

According to the proclamation, more than 580,000 people on a given night were experiencing  homelessness in America when the COVID-19 pandemic began. These people had to endure the pandemic without the safety and protection of a stable home.

The American Rescue Plan has provided Chester County and local governments nationwide with significant new resources to address homelessness, including 70,000 emergency housing vouchers and $5 billion in grants through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and $350 billion in state and local recovery funds through the Department of the Treasury.

“We are grateful for the federal support and have used some of those dollars to spark more affordable housing development in Chester County,” said County Commissioner Josh Maxwell.

“A 51-unit affordable housing complex in West Chester called Pinckney Hill Commons opens this summer. We are also supporting Habitat for Humanity with a 30-40 unit first-time homebuyer development in West Grove, and The Willows at Valley Run in Caln Township is due to begin construction in the Fall of 2022, with a total of 120 units anticipated by end of 2024. These and other approved projects mark progress, but we know we must continue to do more to address the shortage of homes that families with low or moderate incomes can buy or rent.”

All affordable units funded between September 2021 and December 31, 2022, comprise the 350 total. Programs funding these affordable housing developments are administered by the Chester County Department of Community Development.

The Commissioners’ proclamation states that the Housing First model represents the most effective approach to solving homelessness. The program entails identifying and assisting households experiencing homelessness to obtain permanent housing quickly -with few to no barriers- through housing counseling and assistance in finding a home, tailored levels of rental assistance, and/or wrap-around supportive services, as needed.

“We are proud to join House America and pledge to respond with urgency to homelessness in our community by setting and achieving ambitious re-housing and housing creation goals,” added County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “All of the apartments and townhomes in which County dollars are invested are income restricted. We commend HUD for bringing attention and targeting funding to help the most vulnerable among us.”

HUD Regional Administrator Matthew Heckles attended the Commissioners’ meeting to accept the proclamation. He thanked the Commissioners for Chester County’s participation. Heckles was joined by two other HUD officials, Eastern Pennsylvania Field Office Director Robert Ford and Senior Analyst Brandon Porinchak.

Chester County becomes the third community in Pennsylvania to join the House America initiative following York and Philadelphia.

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