A planned $6.24 million senior housing project on Grove Street that's being coordinated with city, county and the SEDA-Council of Government's Housing Development Corp. planners will bring community and financial benefits for years to come with minimal local investment, according to officials.
But Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare spoke out against what he said was the high cost of the project related to the number of people the proposed Grove Street Commons will house.
He claimed the estimated $195,000 price tag for each of the 32 units is too expensive, considering the monthly rent for eligible senior citizens will be $550 with all utilities included.
Mussare voted against applying for a Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement grant for the project at a commissioners' meeting on Oct. 25, also citing the plan was "bookended" with another city housing project he does support - the Brodart warehouse redevelopment on Memorial Avenue.
Mussare also said he believed the Grove Street Commons project should have been open to more developers in addition to the SEDA-COG agency.
But Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland said it's not government's job to tell private investors and banks how to spend their money. He said the county only will pay $270,000 over three years, with funding coming from Act 13 natural gas drilling impact fees delivered back to the county.
Wheeland said $5 million of private equity is being infused into the Grove Street project.
"This is not a government project, per se," Wheeland said. "Yes, there are government subsidies involved with this."
Those subsidies are in the form of tax credits that may be issued by the government to the SEDA-COG Housing Development Corp., which, in turn, may be sold to financial institutions that back the project.
The city and county investment of non-taxpayer dollars will bring in yearly property taxes of $39,000, according to Wheeland.
"That's when the city gets a payback. You're providing a service that is much needed," he said.
William Kelly, county deputy director of the planning office, said the project "cannot be done by private enterprise alone."
Without government subsidies in the form of tax credits to investors, Kelly said the monthly rents would be near $1,200.
"You could be arguing against prescription drugs for the same reason," he said, noting how some drugs are underwritten by insurance.
He said the Grove Street Commons project is being undertaken by proven industry professionals in SEDA-COG's housing agency, an independent arm of the organization.
Kurt Hausammann, Lycoming County Planning Commission director, said the Mill Race Commons senior housing development in Montoursville near Indian Park followed the same plan as Grove Street Commons will.
He said a waiting list contains more than 200 people seeking income-eligible senior housing in Lycoming County.
Construction on the Grove Street Commons project is expected to begin next summer, according to county planning and community development department staff.