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Harrisburg City Council considering incentive program for developers to create affordable housing

By Anthony SanFilippo
March 2021

Affordable housing has been a concern in Harrisburg proper for quite a while now. Discussions in City Hall about how to address the burgeoning problem have been taking place, seemingly ad nauseam.

Finally, it seems like the era of all talk and no action is ending.

That’s because the city proposed new legislation in February that would provide incentives to real estate developers in the city to add affordable rental units to their multifamily building plans.

There are several bills being considered, but together they make a package that would encourage affordable housing by providing zoning relief and tax abatement for developers. The city also agreed that it would satisfy all street vacation application requirements if they were necessary for the developers.

But these weren’t the only incentives being offered.

Developers would also be able to take advantage of density bonuses, allowing them to build more units than allowed on a property as well as reduced parking requirements – since lower-income households are less-likely to own a vehicle.

“I am very excited about this,” Nona Watson, director of economic development in the city told The Burg. “We are well on our way to establishing our affordable housing program.”

In order to take advantage of these incentives, certified developers must agree to make at least 20% of their units affordable to low-income households following guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

These units, which have to be identical to the other units in the development as far as design and amenities, must be made available to rent at a price that does not exceed 30% of the household’s monthly income. Additionally, the developer has to agree to keep the units at an affordable rate for at least 10 years. All affordable units must be put on the market at the same time as market-rate units.

According to The Burg, Mayor Eric Papenfuse clarified that the city wouldn’t be forcing developers to include affordable housing, only incentivizing it. But added that those developers who agreed to participate in the program would be punished if they later failed to comply with the requirements.

“If a developer were to act in good faith to promise to build affordable housing and then not do it […] then we can revoke the certificate of occupancy for the project,” he said. “Then they’re not going to be able to rent any apartments at that complex.”

The bills were introduced in February but are still in the early stages of development and will likely be re-worked and fine-tuned both before and after public comment is allowed on the matter at future council work sessions.


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