Monday, December 04, 2006

There is NO Affordable Housing in State College/Centre County.

Or so the experts and politicians would have us believe. I've never been a politician but I have been in a position where I needed to sell a lot of newspapers so I understand the local press' fascination with reporting the story. What I don't understand is an editorial board bloviating without all of the facts. And what about the local political scene? A certain august body is tripping over itself to give away state prison land to the downtrodden or unlucky. Before the fat-cats start giving away economic opportunities to their campaign contributors and greasing the "old boy network," I think we need to take a step back and look at the situation through the barrel of a shotgun rather than the barrel of a .22 caliber rifle. For those non-hunters among you (after all it is the middle of deer season in PA.), we will look at the larger, wider housing pattern and not just focus on what the political class and journalists want us to believe.

I'm all for helping those that have a real need for affordable housing. After all, as a full time professional realtor I do it every day. Contrary to the stereotype that casts all realtors rubbing elbows with the ritzy elites and driving to Wegmans in their $90,000 BMW's and Mercedes Benz's, I have actually listed and sold a home as low as $14,500. I'm currently working with a client that called me after the trailer park he lives in morphed into prime commercial development land. So I'm out there where the rubber meets the road. I can tell you there is affordable housing available in the Centre Region. I will take you there. I will show you around. I will arrange financing for the buyer. Are there a small few that have a dire need? Absolutely! Let's invite the politicians and editors to help this small number. I can help the rest and without housing summits and wasted newspaper ink.

Before reviewing the MLS statistics I did a quick internet search (maybe the CDT doesn't allow their reporters access to the world wide web), but following is data I found in less than three minutes on an economic web site. The data are compiled from among other sources the Government Census and the numbers are as of 12/31/2005.

*56,954 Housing units available
*33,936 Owner occupied housing units.
* New construction growth since 2001 +5.7%
*3.1% of homes w/values greater than $500,000
*+25.5% increase in value since FY 2000
* 39.8% of residential real estate is valued at under $125,000
* Median price of owner occupied housing in 2005 - $144,200
* Median price of O/O property nationally in 2005 - $167,500

Following is a direct quote from the material: It can be understood that there is a fair amount of real estate that is affordable in Centre County, Pennsylvania. In 2005, 39.8 percent of residential real estate was valued under $125,000. An interesting observation for a bunch of folks that don't even live here.

Now, lets do the math. If there are 33,936 housing units available and 39.8% of them are priced below $125,000, then the total number of affordable housing units available is about 13,507. Of those, how many are on the market at any given time? Using the data provided we could assume that about 2% (% of total owner-occupied housing units on the market at any given time) or 270 affordable housing units are for sale in Centre County. Can we check our math. Of course we can or so my algebra teacher taught me a hundred years ago. Let's go to MLS statistics. Reviewing the current MLS data there are 135 homes for sale priced under $125,000. Using the HUD number of $179,900 there are 246 homes currently for sale in MLS. The numbers provided reflect 12/05/2006 which is the slowest time of the year in real estate. If we looked at the numbers this past summer there were over 200 homes priced at under $125,000 and 270 homes priced under $179,900. The math check does't work exactly but then we are talking about the real world as opposed to academia. The fact remains that there are 135/246 homes for sale in the affordable housing segement in Centre County. I can assure you that we have never run out of supply of these housing units.

Again, using HUD guidelines (they back up there guidelines by making mortgage money available), affordable housing to them is any home priced under $179,900 so there are 246 homes available in the affordable housing segment. The math almost works.

The questions then become; where are the affordable housing units located, how do we match those in need with those of us in the position to help, and finally, how do we arrange financing for those people that will need to purchase the affordable housing? Good questions all.

As I ponder those questions I'm reminded that I bought a home thirteen years ago in Spring Mills because it met my search criteria including affordability. Is it next store to the Wegmans? No. Is it across the street from the body politic in Bellefonte? No. Can I walk to my luxurious CDT editors office after having tea in the morning? No. Am I inconvenienced by the thirty minute drive to work every day? Sometimes. Do I complain about it? Never. After all I made a sacrifice to buy a home.

I'm sure many potential buyers in the affordable housing market contemplate this challenge. If they can barely afford a house and it is located miles away from essential services how can they afford to own a home and incur the commuting expenses? Excellent questions.

This is where our esteemed leaders can begin their search. Suppose the CDT and the politicians get together and looked at the infrastructure of Centre County. They could define those areas where affordable housing exists. They could create and execute a plan bringing much needed infrastructure services to those areas. Potential ideas could include CATA bus transportation, ride-sharing tax incentives, expanded public sewer and water service, etc. You get the idea. After all, isn't that what we expect of government services? We want them providing infrastructure rather than buying land and building homes.

When the infrastructure is improved perhaps they could make low-interest and low downpayment mortgage money available to those that need it most. I think the county has made an attempt at this but it is the best kept secret in the County. I'm a full time professional and if I don't know about it how will the people that need it ever find the resource? Sure, the CDT could promote it in their pages but who will pay that advertising bill? Perhaps the editors that tell us there is no affordable housing.

Now that we know there is affordable housing available let's get on with buying and selling it. For those few in dire need, let the CDT and the body politic help them or involve the private sector to do it more efficiently. Call me or visit www.MyPennStateHome.com for assistance in buying or selling affordable housing.

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