HOME Program Helps Neighborhood Rise From the Ashes

HOME Program Help
As part of the Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED)’s efforts to provide opportunities to all Pennsylvanians and revitalize communities across the state, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) seeks to expand the supply of decent and affordable housing for low- and very low-income Pennsylvanians. A federally funded program administered by DCED that provides municipalities with grant, loan, and technical assistance, it’s currently the largest block grant of its kind intended for affordable housing. To learn more about the HOME program’s recent impact on a Mt. Carmel Township community (located about two hours southwest of Scranton), we spoke with Michael Carpenter, DCED’s HOME program manager.

Early one October morning in 2013, a multiple-alarm fire displaced residents and tore through abandoned rowhomes in the Atlas Section of Mt. Carmel Township, leaving the community with a series of blighted and unsafe structures.

This is just one of many instances of blight across Mt. Carmel Township that local leaders are working hard to eliminate in order to improve quality of life for their residents and revitalize their communities. Recently, the Township was able to use HOME funding to transform this blighted lot into accessible, low-cost housing for seniors. The project is having a positive ripple effect on the neighborhood, addressing housing shortages in the area, and serving as another integral step forward to address blight in Northumberland County.

A Win-Win

We’re hoping that this positive influence doesn’t end with the project’s completion, but instead that this project continues to spur growth and development through further private and public investment.

After lying abandoned and vacant for years, and then undergoing a fire in 2013, the seven abandoned rowhomes in the lot at the corner of Fern and Girard streets were a major eyesore in the community, not to mention a safety hazard. It was especially a concern because of the number of children in the area.

We knew from the county government’s analysis that there was a demonstrable lack of that type of housing in the area, and so it was clear that this community had a great need for code compliant, accessible, maintenance-free senior housing. While the units were will under construction, we were already getting inquiries from children of seniors in the area after an article about our groundbreaking was published in the local paper. When you hear there’s affordable, brand new rental housing for senior citizens that’s at grade, easily accessible, no maintenance, and has private off-street parking, it’s really nice. It’s a win-win. And with the way the programs are set up, the County’s Housing Authority will still be able to keep it as a viable rental project for a long time and continue to provide that affordable housing.

Rising from the Ashes

In terms of the neighborhood, it has made a huge aesthetic improvement. It really has added to an area that at one point contained blighted, vacant, abandoned structures; then vacant, abandoned, burned-out structures; to a cleared lot; to now five beautiful units of rental senior housing. The name for the new structure, Phoenix Court, is an incredibly appropriate metaphor for how this project has transformed this neighborhood and helped it rise from the literal ashes of this blighted site. It’s also an apt image for anticipated future housing improvements that will spur revitalization in surrounding communities and the county at large.

This type of project tends to have a ripple effect, and this apartment complex was no different. When residents see a significant investment in their neighborhood, they’re encouraged by the improvements they see being done, and, in turn, tend to take more pride in their properties and where they live. We’re hoping that this positive influence doesn’t end with the project’s completion, but instead that this project continues to spur growth and development through further private and public investment. That’s what any community development or revitalization project aims to set in motion.

A Community Effort

Northumberland County formed a Blight Task Force in 2012, and they have multiple municipal partners within the county that have participated and benefited from DCED’s Keystone Communities, HOME, and Neighborhood Assistance programs — as well as other sources — to demolish and rehabilitate housing across Northumberland County. The Phoenix Apartments project fits perfectly into their entire community revitalization and remediation theme, and they were very excited to see it come to fruition.

Supporting Diverse Residents/Accessible Housing

One of the exciting things about this project is not only does it provide much-needed low-income senior housing, but it also includes an ADA-compliant unit for a very low-income person with special needs, which we’re very excited about. We need to have more housing that’s fully handicap-accessible and start thinking in terms of that kind of design. We need to have more housing that is accessible to both special needs and senior individuals.

Though this is just one project, it represents an ongoing, widespread, proactive effort taking place throughout Northumberland County to address and resolve blight, making its communities safer, more beautiful, and places that residents can be proud to call home. Though it’s one of the first such initiatives, it certainly won’t be the last.

Learn more about the HOME program at dced.pa.gov/home. To continue to stay up-to-date with Pennsylvania news, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, and become a Keystone Ally to help spread #PAProud stories across your social media channels.

DCED Author Michael Carpenter

As program manager for the commonwealth’s HOME Investment Partnership Program, Mike Carpenter leads a dynamic team of community development and housing professionals. They share a mutual goal as community development and housing practitioners. That goal is the provision of decent, safe, affordable housing for low- and very low-income individuals and families throughout Pennsylvania. Mike has more than 25 years of professional experience serving in both state and local government positions.