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Housing authority provides affordable, quality living for residents

It was after World War II, and as Lycoming County’s soldiers returned to the homefront, many families were rebuilding, reconnecting and looking for affordable housing.

In these post-war years, the Lycoming County commissioners envisioned a return to normalcy and formed what was to be known as the Lycoming Housing Authority, said Merilyn Severson, the authority executive director.

To this day, the authority remains a vital link to connecting people with finding affordable and quality housing, and so much more, she said.

Severson, who joined the authority in 1999 as a social worker, said she gets joy from helping those in need find housing opportunities in nine different locations throughout the county.

“In 1948, the authority became a municipality by resolution of the commissioners,” she said.

The Housing Authority purchased what was known as Penn Vale in 1948. During this time, Penn Vale was used by the War Department, a predecessor to the U.S. Department of Defense, as a location for soldiers’ homes.

And over the years, that mission has expanded to not only low-income housing needs but also housing for the working class, including fair-market-rate housing.

In 1952, the authority oversaw construction of the Michael Ross and P.D. Mitchell developments. P.D. Mitchell site has become the centerpiece, Severson said.

Michael Ross remains close to Divine Providence Hospital, she said.

In 1969, the authority began William Hepburn Apartments on Lycoming Street and in 1973, the Robert Montgomery House in Montgomery borough, where there are currently 38 units enabling income-eligible individuals to find a place to live among the quiet borough in southeastern Lycoming County.

Between 1973 and 2000, the authority managed housing properties and continued to meet its need over nearly three decades of service, providing affordable residences to low-income/ hard-working class individuals.

Lycoming Housing has become federally funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2000, the authority disposed of 138 public housing units in Pennvale and the Lycoming County Housing Finance Inc. was created. The following year, the Broad Street School Apartments were made by revamping the former Broad Street School in Jersey Shore. Those apartments include 30 units that are for senior citizens.

Severson noted how these apartments are so unique with some of the original school markings on the doors, such as teacher’s names, original wood beams from the school preserved and a principal’s office converted into an apartment.

In 2004, the Lycoming County Housing Finance Inc. bought Chatham Park Apartments in Old Lycoming Township.

In 2011, it began to manage the Mary Slaughter Apartments on Brandon Street, which has 27 units available for the elderly near bucolic Brandon Park and its tennis courts, the band shell and walking paths.

Today, the authority manages 468 public housing units, Severson said.

These include four units that have occupants who are planning to purchase and have their own home ownership, she said. “The four apartments that will become owner-occupied structures are at Lose School Parkway, Cherry Street and Walnut Street,” she said.

These occupants have five years using various bank loans and credit to save enough money to eventually call the house their own, she said.

The authority has staff that are willing and help out clients with their home repairs and provide educational resources to help them locate jobs, search for more productive jobs and do job training, Severson said.

“The whole purpose is to empower these folks so they can reach the finish line and sign on the dotted line, taking over the mortgage and becoming their own home owner,” she said.

The authority manages Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 housing for 500 families, Severson said.

Housing and Urban Development issues 675 vouchers and the authority has a set budget to provide that many housing opportunities for low-income families and individuals, she said.

Additionally, we partner with many local landlords to provide support and management of 675 Section 8 vouchers. Lycoming Housing also provides homeownership opportunities to qualified applicants through our Section 32 Homeownership Plan.

The authority also has 202 market-rate units that do not come with any federal government assistance.

“We, as a public agency, with support of our Board of Directors and a commitment from our dedicated staff, have a shared responsibility to provide results-oriented, quality work and services for all our clients,” Severson said on behalf of the board.

Lycoming Housing, together with residents, local government, community agencies, and the citizens of Lycoming County are committed to developing partnerships to maintain and improve neighborhood standards, she said.

“We are focused on ensuring we remain engaged within our community and doing our very best to help enrich the overall quality of life for our entire county.”

“Our mission was and remains today to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing to low-income residents and offer supportive services that will enable residents to ultimately reach self-sufficiency,” Severson said.

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