The Lancaster County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to distribute $5 million in federal pandemic aid to half a dozen affordable housing projects.
The amounts they approved from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding are as follows:
- $1.25 million: To SDL DevCo, for The Yards (226 total units, 45 affordable) Project budget: $59.3 million.
- $1.25 million: To HDC MidAtlantic for The Apartments at College Ave. (64 affordable units) Project budget: $23.4 million.
- $1 million: To YWCA Lancaster for YForward (16 affordable units) Project budget: $3.55 million.
- $1 million: To Landis Quality Living for Immerse (52 units, 11 affordable) Project budget: $18.1 million.
- $310,250: United Churches Elizabethtown Area for the White Building (2 units) Project budget: $365,000.
- $186,076: Real Life Community Services for the Royer House (2 units) Project budget: $591,000.
- TOTAL: $4,996,326
The commissioners voted separately on each application for assistance, due to their lack of consensus on which projects warranted funding, and how much.
At Tuesday’s work session, Commissioner John Trescot said he strongly supported the projects and would be open to granting them the amounts they sought. Commissioner Josh Parsons said he would only vote for funding the two small-scale ones, saying the others would likely move forward with or without county support. Commissioner Ray D’Agostino took a middle route, proposing that the commissioners move forward with ARPA funding, but with a cap of $1 million.
The sooner the larger projects get under way, the better, Trescot said Wednesday. Not only will they provide much needed housing, he said, “these are actually projects that pay for themselves,” contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to municipal, county and school district coffers.
Trescot noted that D’Agostino’s proposal would result in a total allocation of just under $4.5 million, and suggested rounding that up to $5 million. That would allow for an additional $250,000 to go to HDC MidAtlantic and either SDL DevCo or YWCA Lancaster. D’Agostino said Trescot made good points, and that he was willing to sign off on the additional half million.
Parsons maintained his opposition to the four largest projects, saying government intervention in the housing market and the economy more broadly is part of the reason housing is so expensive. The Royer House and White Building projects, on the other hand, are small-scale community projects where there’s accountability and programming is offered that can change tenants’ lives.
Government has a role to play in the housing market, but a very limited one, he said.
The Rev. Joel Saint, who is pastor of Independence Reformed Bible Church and executive director of the Mid Atlantic Reformation Society, frequently attends the commissioners’ Wednesday meetings to offer comment. He said that in his view, Parsons was conceding too much: “In housing, I would argue that government has no role whatsoever to take money from the productive to give to the unproductive.”
D’Agostino agreed that government intervention in housing is something to be wary of, but that sometimes there’s no other way to secure financing for affordable housing projects and bring them across the finish line.
Accordingly, the votes on the four largest ARPA allocations were 2-1, with D’Agostino and Trescot in favor and Parsons opposed. The vote for the Royer House funding was unanimous; the White Building’s funding was approved 2-1, with Trescot voting “no” on the grounds that providing $155,125 in ARPA per unit is excessive.
‘The money goes fast’
In their discussions of ARPA, the commissioners have consistently said they want to see other entities chipping in, with the county providing “last-in” funding. On Wednesday, Mayor Danene Sorace told the commissioners that Lancaster’s city government is providing ARPA funding to the Yards and YWCA Lancaster’s YForward project.
It has not committed ARPA to The Apartments at College Ave., but officials are meeting with HDC MidAtlantic next week to discuss the funding gap. The city has provided $850,000 in federal HOME funding.
Last year, City Council provided just under $1 million to buy 838 Marietta Ave., where HDC MidAtlantic hopes to build a companion project to The Apartments at College Ave. At that time, it did not appear that HDC MidAtlantic would need further assistance with The Apartments’ financing, but subsequent inflation and supply chain issues have pushed the project budget from $15.4 million to $23.4 million.
Between revenue replacement, the purchase of land for expansion near the city’s Oyster Point water reservoir, affordable housing, and an upcoming round of “community facilities” funding, Lancaster’s $39.5 million in ARPA funding is pretty much committed, the mayor said.
“As you know, the money goes fast when the need is great,” Sorace said.