Residents of Chester County have a high quality of life, enjoying preserved open space, recreational amenities, and job and commercial service options. However, for many in the county, a barrier to a high quality of life is the high cost of homes.
Established in 1963, the Housing Authority of Chester County (HACC) works to provide low income residents with affordably priced housing options. Dale Gravett, Executive Director of HACC, attended the Chester County Planning Commission’s board meeting on November 13 and discussed HACC’s mission to provide, manage and develop quality affordable housing for individuals and families while promoting self-sufficiency and neighborhood revitalization.
Gravett noted that the County Commissioners appoint HACC’s five member Board of Commissioners. HACC has an annual budget of approximately $20 million, with 60 percent coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In the 1970s HACC constructed 300 units across several public housing developments that are still owned and operated by the agency. Today these facilities generally serve elderly and disabled residents making less than 50 percent of the average median income.
Gravett indicated that the housing choice voucher program, also referred to as Section 8, is the most impactful one utilized by the HACC to address housing needs. Since 2010, the number of vouchers available for county residents has increased from 1,250 to 1,800, with a dollar value of $4.5 million annually.
Since 2018, the value of a housing choice voucher has been set by HUD Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMR), and is based on actual market rents within a specific zip code. Across Chester County, the value of a voucher ranges and can be as high as $1,500. Prior to 2018 the rate was determined at the metropolitan area, which resulted in lower voucher values that could not easily be utilized in the county.
Gravett stated that over 1,400 of their vouchers are utilized by individuals, with approximately 350 being project based. Project based vouchers are tied to a specific development. With the SAFMR change in 2018 and resulting higher voucher values, developers have been more open to utilizing vouchers.
Additional housing voucher programs discussed included the family reunification and family self-sufficiency programs. The family reunification voucher serves to keep children out of the foster care system by providing housing for the entire family. The self-sufficiency program is a voluntary program that allows a person using a voucher to build up an escrow of their contributions as increased earnings trigger rent increases. After a period of time and completion of the program, the monies from this escrow can be used for other goals, such as home down payments and educational expenses.
Gravett stated that although there has been much success in providing opportunities for affordable housing, there is still more that can be done. Specifically he indicated that the biggest issue facing residents who utilize vouchers is finding landlords who will accept them. There has been some success in recruiting new landlords to accept vouchers from veterans, but more needs to be done to educate landlords on voucher programs.
Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary thanked Gravett and his organization for partnering with the county in implementing Landscapes3 recommendations related to affordably-priced housing.