PlanPhilly

Affordability isn't just a city problem — Harrisburg sends housing grants to suburban, rural areas

With green lawns and white picket fences, Abington Township is hardly a poster child for gentrification. Yet housing costs have doubled in this Montgomery County suburb over the past 20 years.

And Kathy Possinger, from the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development, says many similar suburban areas face rising housing costs.

"Across Pennsylvania, the need for what we would consider affordable, safe, decent housing exists regardless of your ZIP code, regardless of where you’re located,”  said Possinger, director of the agency.

Last week, Possinger’s agency announced a $500,000 grant that will rebab eight low-to-moderate income homes in Abington. Communities in nine other counties will receive similar grants.

The 10 jurisdictions getting state money to create or preserve affordable housing range from suburban Montgomery County to rural Indiana County.

Possinger said this latest round of grants is reflective of the broader nature of what is sometimes thought of as a primarily urban issue. She said the problem of burdensome housing costs were the same for city and country residents, although the nature of these costs sometimes varied. In some growing suburbs, rising tax bills and larger homes can make upkeep costs burdensome for seniors.

Other older suburbs have alternatively seen rising poverty rates. More far-flung communities have, meanwhile, experienced extreme deindustrialization, abandonment and deteriorating housing stock.

The most recent grants, which were funded through an annual infusion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME program, will only cover home repair and rehabilitation work –– preserving, but not expanding the supply of affordable homes.

“A lot of homeowners are spending a substantial amount of their personal resources to just get by,” she said. “The larger housing systems –– plumbing improvements or electrical work –– the things you might not see from the street, are the things that go unaddressed.”

Possinger said that many rural and suburban areas have also faced an extreme shortage of rental units, driving up the costs of the ones that are available.

“The demand has been exceptional and its driven up those costs in many communities,” she said. “But we didn’t have any specific projects addressing rental in this specific round of funding.”

About the author

Ryan Briggs, Data Reporter

Ryan Briggs is WHYY's data reporter.  He works on the PlanPhilly team and across the WHYY newsroom on investigative features. Before joining WHYY, he covered politics, criminal justice and government policy since 2011. He has worked as a staff reporter for Next City, the Philadelphia City Paper, Philly.com and City & State PA, while contributing stories to a variety of other news outlets as a freelancer, including WHYY.



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