MILFORD, PA — It’s “nearly impossible” for many Pike County residents to afford housing without some sort of government subsidy, according to the results of a 2020 housing …
MILFORD, PA — It’s “nearly impossible” for many Pike County residents to afford housing without some sort of government subsidy, according to the results of a 2020 housing study.
The Pike County Commissioners are looking at an array of approaches aimed at addressing the issue. Recently, the board approved the implementation of the “Temporary Rental Subsidy Program,” a new form of assistance that provides recipients with a monthly subsidy that ensures they pay no more than 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent—up to $500 per month for 12 months.
In Pike and throughout the rest of the country, human services director Robert Ruiz said, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the climbing cost of rental units. However, Pike’s struggle to provide affordable housing is rooted in a significant population jump dating back well before the pandemic was even on the horizon.
According to the affordable-housing firm Diana T. Myers & Associates (DMA), which was engaged by the commissioners to assess the status of housing, Pike County saw unprecedented growth between 1980 and 2010 as working families and retirees, mostly from New York and New Jersey, moved out of their cities and suburbs and into the more rural NEPA. Over those 30 years, the county’s population more than tripled from 18,271 to 57,369.
Most of the new households have been accommodated in three- and four-bedroom, single-family homes across 200 residential communities. Since 2000, the report noted, when Pike issued 744 permits for single-family housing, it issued just one permit for a multi-unit development.
“This has resulted in a lop-sided housing market in which rental housing is not only severely limited, but also extremely unaffordable to many households,” the study reads.
Ruiz calls it a “supply-and-demand issue.” Just 17 percent of occupied units in Pike are inhabited by renters, less than half the state average of 36 percent.
In addition to financial assistance, Ruiz said that families enrolled in the new subsidy program will also receive individualized help from a caseworker who will help them develop a financial wellness plan.
“[The families] will be meeting with a caseworker at least once a month, and that caseworker will be promoting that family to ensure that they are successful at the end of the 12 months of the program to be financially sustainable in their rental units,” Ruiz said.
Helping to stabilize residents’ finances is top of mind for the county, which has the highest fair market rents in the commonwealth for two- through four-bedroom properties. Almost half of all renters in Pike are “rent burdened,” meaning they put more than 35 percent of their monthly income toward housing. The number of rent-burdened residents statewide is just 37 percent.
Beyond housing, the issues facing Pike County residents come down to poverty. At the time of DMA’s report, 15 percent of families, nine percent of individuals living alone or cohabitating, and five percent of adults over 65 were living below the poverty line.
Using another measure of hardship, DMA reported that 26 percent of Pike households are “ALICE households.” ALICE—which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed—refers to households that earn more than the federal poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county, meaning they struggle to afford basic resources necessary for life, but do not qualify for many government subsidies.
On the plus side, the lack of affordable housing has not resulted in a major uptick in homelessness. Prior to COVID-19, Pike County, as part of the 33-county Eastern Continuum of Care, reduced the average length of homelessness by 44 percent between 2016 and 2019.
Ruiz said that through multiple initiatives employed in more recent years—like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and a landlord incentive program—his office has been able to protect hundreds of families from homelessness during the pandemic.
“There were two main funding sources that came through. The CARES Act was the first bunch of money that came through to us… and then the American Rescue Plan helped develop some programs nationwide as well,” Ruiz said. The most recent rental subsidy program is being funded through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) Fund.
Ruiz encouraged residents to browse the various programs they might qualify for, including the most recently announced rental subsidy program, at www.pikeforward.org. Ruiz can also be reached for further information about this and other programs at 570/296-3434 or email@example.com.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here