Sherman Hills Inspected Under New Owners

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE, PA — City code inspectors took a look Monday at how the new owners of the Sherman Hills apartment complex are managing the site.

Inspectors visited the apartments as part of a complex-wide round of reviews following the site’s purchase by a New Jersey company. Inspectors must review rental units before a new tenant moves in, at least every two years or if a property changes hands, said Butch Frati, Wilkes-Barre director of operations.

Sherman Hills Realty finalized the complex’s sale on April 10 to Treetop Development, of Teaneck, N.J., which paid $15.7 million for the property.

City inspectors visited last week and Monday and plan to finish today. They review living conditions and complete a checklist on each of Sherman Hills’ 344 units.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/sherman-hills-inspected-under-new-owners-1.1696736

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HUD: Sherman Hills Issues Life-Threatening

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Sherman Hills tenants are experiencing life-threatening security issues that include inoperable surveillance cameras, broken windows and more than half of exterior lights not turned on or broken, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report said.

The report, made public Thursday, follows a two-day HUD inspection in September of six of the eight “garden style buildings” within the complex, including Building 328, where two girls suffered gunshot wounds in August.

The sprawling 344-unit apartment complex off Coal Street has been plagued by violent crime in recent years, including the shooting of the two girls and a fatal shooting of a woman on Nov. 11.

Read more: http://timesleader.com/news/local-news/1001665/HUD:-Sherman-Hills-issues-life-threatening

Housing Crisis: Rising Prices, Fewer Options, Long Waiting Lists Make Finding A Livable Space Difficult

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jessica Castro in September moved herself, her daughter and her son, ages 10 and 9, into a one-bedroom apartment, sacrificing elbowroom to save on rent.

“What I need is a three-bedroom,” said Castro, 36, but it wasn’t in her budget. Even two-bedroom units were beyond her means as she worked 40 hours a week plus a second part-time job.

She now frets over how long her kids will tolerate the tight squeeze.

Thousands of renters across Lancaster County can identify with Castro. They’re priced out of decent, right-sized housing and settle for cramped, substandard quarters.

Experts warn that the shortage of affordable units is at the point that working people will leave the county to find a place to live.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/917486_Housing-crisis–Rising-prices–fewer-options–long-waiting-lists-make-finding-a-livable-space-difficult.html#ixzz2l1Rw7Kn6

Playing With Philadelphia’s Tax Money

Editor’s note:  Here’s another reason they call Pottstown “little Philadelphia“.   Just change out Philadelphia with Pottstown.  Same problems, just a smaller scale but equally as devastating to the residents of both communities.

Philadelphia’s decades-long neglect of property-tax collections has been a disaster for public schools, the city budget, and typical taxpaying homeowners.

But the system does have its advantages for low-rent landlords, out-of-town speculators, and anyone else interested in playing property Powerball, a game where the objective is to pile up real estate in hope of hitting a gentrification jackpot, while keeping out-of-pocket expenses – like taxes – as low as possible.

Some are big winners, such as the investor who picked up three adjacent Northern Liberties lots in 1994 for a combined $16,000, skipped paying taxes on the lots for more than a decade, and made good on the debt only after flipping the parcels for $750,000 in 2010.

Such speculative windfalls are rare, but it’s not for lack of trying.  Of the roughly 100,000 tax-delinquent properties in Philadelphia, at least 57,500 are owned by investors, not occupants. These are parcels deeded to suburbanites and Floridians, developers and Brooklyn-based holding companies, small-time local speculators and real estate tycoons with dozens of properties to their name.

Read more:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/city/20130311_Playing_with_the_city_s_tax_money.html

York’s State-Of-The-Art Housing Complex To Open In April

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

York, PA – The sawdust floated down like late-winter snow, but officials said by summer the city will have more than two dozen state-of-the-art housing units and a bright new view along South George Street.

George Street Commons, a collaborative effort between the City of York, the Y Community Development Corporation and Ohio-based developer PIRHL is nearing completion, according to Kevin Schreiber, the city’s community and economic development director.

Residents could begin to move in to part of the $10 million, 28-unit site along East College Avenue as early as April, he said.  It should be completed by August.

“This is a really strong, good city project, a good, mixed-use development,” he said, walking the muddy construction site on Friday.  “There’s a lot here we’re excited about.”

Read more:  http://www.ydr.com/local/ci_22615510/yorks-state-art-housing-complex-open-april

Montco Commissioners ‘Listening Tour’ Comes To Pottstown Monday

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Maybe they should call this the magical mystery tour!

POTTSTOWN — Issues of low-income housing concentrations and economic development are likely to command the agenda Monday when the Montgomery County Commissioners come to town as part of their ongoing “listening tour.”

The commissioners are holding the open meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the Montgomery County Community College on College Drive.

The meetings serve as a way for residents to get answers and for the commissioners to get a sense of issues their constituents care about as a way to inform important decisions, particularly budget decisions, said Frank Custer, the county’s communications director.

It is the fourth of five such meetings set up around the county that so far have attracted moderate interest from the public, according to Custer.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130210/NEWS01/130219982/montco-commissioners-listening-tour-comes-to-pottstown-monday#full_story

For Shame, Lousy Landlords

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Thumbs UP!

That’s what they’re doing in Pittsburgh.

City council voted recently to reinstate a public-shaming program aimed at irresponsible landlords.

The new law requires the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection to identify the 10 most dilapidated structures and the Department of Public Works to put up signs with the owners’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

Under the “Operation Red” program, the signs will say, “Don’t Come Here.  Don’t Invest Here.”

The signs are intended to shame landlords, but some critics predict they will embarrass tenants more.  Other critics say the signs may hasten the demise of particular streets or neighborhoods.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/796288_For-shame–lousy-landlords.html#ixzz2Fz0gnkXC

Property Taxes Are Killing Pottstown

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  This is a well-written opinion piece from the Fishwrap that was sent to Governor Corbett and other state and local officials.  Sums up the state of Pottstown pretty well.

An open letter sent to Gov. Corbett and copied to state Rep. Thomas Quigley and Pottstown Mayor Bonnie Heath.

Gov. Corbett:

There’s a lovely stone house for sale on High Street in Pottstown.  Yes, it’s our house.  It’s reasonably priced and has piqued the curiosity of many prospective buyers but one item makes them turn and run.  “What is so frightening?” you ask.  It’s the property taxes!  Over $7,500 per year on a house assessed at $150,000.  That’s outrageous!  We have friends in other Montgomery County communities such as Springfield Township, Abington and Upper Dublin.  Their houses are assessed higher than ours but, in some cases, they pay less than half our taxes.  There is something drastically wrong with this scenario.  Pottstown ranks seventh in school taxes out of 500 Pennsylvania districts.  We also rank at the top for producing underachieving students.  We have 13.4 percent of our residents over 65, an inordinate number of Section 8 and transient residents in this blue-collar town, and high unemployment.  Property values are spiraling downward, creating a dismal sinking into the quicksand of urban destruction.

Our delusional council and school board keep raising taxes as though we were a booming town but we’ve lost our industrial base that employed hundreds at Bethlehem Steel, Firestone, Mrs. Smith’s Pies and other long-gone businesses.  Sadly, we’ve also had to say good-bye to our wonderful Pottstown Symphony.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20120928/OPINION02/120929459/property-taxes-are-killing-pottstown

Pottstown Council Meeting Highlights – 10/12/10

The meeting was called to order by President Toroney.

Councilors Allen and Gibson were not in attendance.  (Councilor Allen arrived late, after the roll call was taken.)

Minutes were approved.

Comments from the peeps (full house tonight)

A member of the Human Relations Committee requested locks on doors and file cabinets.  Currently they have neither and sensitive documents are stored at committee member’s homes.  They also requested a computer and a database. (Now there’s a thought in 2010!!)

A condo owner from the Light Foundry complex told council that the condo owners pay their association fees each month to a manager who is supposed to be paying the bills for the complex.  This person is not doing that.  Their water is scheduled to be shut off this month.  They cannot afford to pay their bills twice.  They owe the borough $13k!  They are paying $200 a month for association fees that should cover water/sewer/trash.

A resident from E. Second St. said there is trash everywhere and the rental/Section 8 people make a mess.  The street is mostly renters.

A property owner spoke against the new rental ordinance.  He said he feels the Sunshine Law was broken and that the ordinance content has changed since being presented to the property owners.  He also stated that the ordinance does not meet the plain language guidelines as dictated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

A Pottstown landlord and realtor said she hears all the time that Pottstown is too difficult to work with from investors and prospective homeowners are also not interested in Pottstown.  She also objected to some language in the new rental ordinance.

Another landlord said he felt the Sunshine Law was broken by Council and the Borough Manager.  President Toroney vigorously defended Council and Jason by stating that this has been discussed at the last 5 or 6 public meetings and in many committees for months.  Council has been continuously advised and given drafts of the ordinance in progress.  Pottstown’s new rental ordinance is based on the Gettysburg Pennsylvania ordinance. 

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_application.pdf

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_addendum.pdf

Another opponent of the rental ordinance spoke.  She said she doesn’t think Pottstown has sufficient code enforcement officers to enforce the new ordinance.  The new ordinance gives Codes the power to direct landlords to evict tenants.

Jeff Leflar (Code Blue) read an excellent and fact-filled prepared statement outlining Pottstown’s current demographics and spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing proposal. 

Mary Beth Lydon (Code Blue) spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project.  A petition was presented to council with over 70 signatures opposing the senior project.  Many people Code Blue talked to at the River Festival on Saturday were not aware of this project and did not support it.  She also outlined this demonstrated a lack of communication from the borough to its residents.

Another investor/landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.  He referred to it as heavy-handed.

Yet another investor spoke against the rental ordinance.  He said it was draconian.  There are provisions for jail time for infractions.  He feels this ordinance is a turn-off to investors.

A previous Pottstown landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.   It gives Code Enforcement too many powers and Pottstown doesn’t enforce the code already on the books so why are we adding more?

Another speaker was against the proposed rental ordinance, especially the security deposit language (he wants that deleted).  It’s open season on landlords.  The ordinance is heavy-handed and favors owner occupant vs. investors.

Another Pottstown landlord requested common language be used.

Katy Jackson (Code Blue & CPR) spoke about a property at 117 Washington St.  The police have been there 10 times since January!  Three police visits occurred between 9/10 & 9/11 (fight).  The renters are dangerous and have weapons.  The neighborhood needs stabilized.  She again called for a Task Force to be created to handle this problem.  Katy stated that Code Blue & CPR want the good landlords to stay in Pottstown!  She also spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project stating that Pottstown already has enough of this type of housing and adding more will create a stigma.  We can do better!

A North Charlotte Street resident complained to council about illegal activity (drug use, loitering and a shooting) in her neighborhood.  The police are called but if they don’t see it, they can’t write up a report.  Between January and June of this year she called the Pottstown Police Dept. 20 times.  The problem is a rental unit and the tenants.

A resident spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

The Rector of Christ Episcopal Church spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

A neighbor of the woman on N. Charlotte Street said he wishes he could move.  Ever since the shooting, right in front of his house, he feels unsafe and is very worried about his children.  He won’t allow them to be downstairs and they avoid windows.  They were home the night of the shooting, which occurred right in front of their living room window.  He stated he now owns a gun.  He has gotten into altercations with the rental tenants.  He stated no police came after the shooting was called in.  He said it was caught on surveillance tape.

Whew!  That was a LOT of speakers!

Mayor’s report – Puppies and sunshine everywhere.  All is well.

Manager’s report – Construction has begun on the Norfolk Southern bulk transfer station on South Keim St.  We can expect the railroad crossing to be upgraded as the result of construction (Hallelujah!).

There will be a store front wiindow decorating contest downtown for Christmas.

There is a cooperative effort between PSD and the borough to rehabilitate 22 E. Second Street, using PSD students.

There is a group that uses the Schuylkill River to promote tourism and marketing for towns in our area.  Jason attended their meeting.

As a result of the First Suburbs initiative Pottstown, Norristown and Coatesville are talking about Section 8 housing issues such as vouchers and inspections with HUD.

If all goes well in November they can advertise for the new PAID Director position.  That won’t come SOON ENOUGH IMHO!

Due to declining attendance, Jason is looking to have one last joint Ward meeting on November 10th at the First Church of the Brethren on York St.

On October 20th, Norristown and Pottstown will have a joint council meeting here in Pottstown to discuss common issues.

Jason is trying to organize a meeting between Council and PDIDA to work with existing business owner’s downtown.

It’s budget time.  One item Jason mentioned was that for years 3, 4, & 5 it was hoped that Rickett’s would have become self-sustaining. Until he speaks with Olivet about the borough’s contribution for Rickett’s, that is a gray area for the budget.  Money was not budgeted for those years hoping Rickett’s would not need assistance from the borough.

The Pottstown Authority wants a review of the water fund budget.  They want costs moved into the general fund.  This will be discussed further at Finance.

Motion to adopt the new rental ordinance passed unanimously.

The low-income riverfront senior housing project passed unanimously.  The Lincoln underwear factory property, where the riverfront low-income senior housing will be built, was appraised at $470,000.  The two lots are 1 ½ acres.  Welcome to Pottsamucil.

The motion to authorize the joint venture between PSD and the borough passed unanimously (22 E. Second St. rehabilitation by PSD students).

The motion to authorize the submission of the Pottstown Skyline Lighting Project to the Montco Community Revitalization Board was approved and the project was made the number 1 priority as part of the vote.  (Think boathouse row downtown).

Motion to approve the submission of an EPA grant for Brownfield cleanup at Bethlehem Steel aka the Pottstown Industrial Complex was approved.

Council labored over the Mrs. Smith’s site again regarding the last mustard colored building (Foil Company) and what to do with it.  The options are: do nothing and keep the $85k, paint and keep $45k or do the mural and keep $45k.  They chose Option 2, paint and keep $45k.  $85k is in escrow from the developer for esthetics regarding this building.  Nobody likes the color much.

The bills were paid and the meeting was adjourned.

Editor’s note: Councilor Kirkland (Ward 7) felt the need to give a diatribe regarding opposition to the low-income riverfront senior housing.  Using a move from Tom Hylton’s playbook, Mr. Kirkland berated those opposed to this project as spreading misinformation and not caring about Pottstown.  Mr. Kirkland, have you been paying attention to people who use this methodology?  They end up like the Shade Tree Commission.  A word to the wise is hopefully sufficient.

Code Blue To Hold Informational Protest At Pottstown City Hall Prior To Council Meeting

At 6 pm tonight, civic activist group Code Blue is holding an informational protest in front of City Hall, prior to this evening’s 7 pm council meeting.  Code Blue opposes the construction of low-income senior housing along the Schuylkill River at the former Lincoln underwear factory.  The group invites you to come out and learn why they are opposed to this plan.  If you care to join them to demonstrate your displeasure, feel free to stop by.

This is an critical meeting tonight with many important items on the agenda.  You owe it to yourself, as a resident of Pottstown, to come out and make sure your voice is heard.

Pottstown Borough Council Makes Two Historic Decisions At Tonight’s Meeting

I have good news and I have bad news.

Good news first!

TIMBER!!!!!

After a 10 minute emotionally charged “presentation” by Shade Tree Commissioner Thomas Hylton and a round of questioning, Borough Council unanimously passed the new Shade Tree Ordinance thereby making the Shade Tree Commission and Thomas Hylton history. 

Hylton told Council he hoped they knew what they were getting themselves into by taking on trees.  He reminded Council that as a nonprofit he has “discretion” on what he does and does not do.  Therein lies the problem Tom and that is why you are no longer in charge.  It is a little thing called customer service.  Being arbitrary is NOT good public relations. 

Hylton made a statement that led some on Council to believe Trees, Inc. would no longer use their money to provide tree services if the Shade Tree Commission was disbanded.  His answer was vague.  When further pressed Hylton emotionally stated that it is hard to do a job when people throw bricks at you all the time.  Finally when pressed again said he would continue to help, aka Trees, Inc..  Hylton then left the meeting.

Bad news!

Council had a big decision to make which will decide Pottstown’s path for the future.  The question was do we want to be like Manayunk or do we want to be a low-income retirement community.  After much debate we unanimously chose the low-income retirement community option.  1.5 acres of prime riverfront property will become a subsidized 55+ housing project (rentals).  In the end, $11 million dollars and a supposed guarantee that the property will always stay on the tax rolls won out.

This project is good for 15 years.  After 15 years the property could be sold to a private investor who could potentially make undesirable changes.  Of course the “pitch man” said that would be highly unlikely….right.

While Pottstown has a demonstrated need for senior housing this site is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Furthermore, these residents will pull our already low demographics down further.  Residents will not buy things on High Street.  They will not eat at the Brick House or Juan Carlos.  They won’t be able to afford it.  They won’t have enough disposable income left after paying their rent and electric bill.  By the way, the heat is ELECTRIC and not included!!!!  Excelon is rasing their already astronomical rates even higher!

I was told more senior housing is planned for the borough.  Evidently a larger project is in the works for the old Pottstown Nipple factory area.  I will venture a guess we are not talking about a project like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Villages,_Florida  but more like the towers or this new riverfront community.

There was a lot of other business discussed which I will report on tomorrow. 

Good night!