The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 8, 2013

Agency: Tenants are in need of jobs

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER COUNTY — Only about half of families in Mercer County Housing Authority apartments who are eligible to work have jobs, and 78 percent of those working are making $15,000 or less, authority officials said.

“They’re either working minimum wage jobs or part time,” said Executive Director Nannette Livadas.

Mercer County Housing Authority has more family units than the authorities in Butler, Crawford or Beaver counties – those counties cater more to seniors – and the family sizes are larger here, but there are fewer working families on the average in Mercer County than in those counties, she said.

Those facts prompted officials to include in the preliminary updates to the strategic and agency plans the goal of doing more to help residents find work over the next five years, whether by initiating skills training or providing guidance with writing resumes and interviewing for jobs.

As part of that effort, officials want site managers to work more closely with the resident services department. There are only three resident services employees, and they need help of the site managers  to effectively meet resident needs.

“They have to be coordinated,” Livadas said.

Mindful that the federal government is unlikely to come through with enough money to meet all of the authority’s needs, officials also want to use their non-profit affiliate, Community Homebuyers Inc., which could access different types of funding than the authority, to possibly help with sponsoring programs and providing staff that could be shared with the authority.

The plans also reflect a recently completed physical needs assessment, which lists and prioritizes the repair needs of authority buildings over the next 20 years. While the overall health of the buildings is good, roofs don’t last forever, doors sometimes get broken and plumbing fixtures can wear out.

The assessment lists about $7 million in projects over the next five years, while the authority expects it will get only about $4.8 million during that span, in capital funds and operating funds diverted to capital projects.

While there is some hope the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will look at the assessment and increase capital funding as result of it, officials expect they will have to continue to prioritize projects to work within a limited budget.

Modernization and Accessibility Coordinator Kenneth K. Chuzie said the authority is mandated to upgrade handicapped accessibility, and those projects will reduce the amount of money left for other work.

“We make those choices every year,” Livadas said.

Looking outside of authority-owned properties, officials said they want to try to promote the Housing Choice Voucher Program – also known as Section 8 – where the federal government provides rent subsidies for low-income people to live in privately owned apartments.

Section 8 Coordinator Cheryl Artis said she plans to hold information sessions for landlords to learn about the Section 8 program, and try to attract participating landlords who live outside of Sharon and Farrell.

Most landlords seek information about the program when a potential tenant comes to their door with a voucher, Artis said. Staff members spend a lot of time talking on the telephone with landlords explaining the program, which requires inspections of apartments, she said.

“There are things they have to understand, but our rents are good,” Livadas said.

Section 8 residents typically are good tenants because they will lose their subsidies if they do not live up to their commitments, Artis said.

“A majority of our tenants take care of the units like they’re paying the mortgage,” she said.

A public hearing on the plans will be held March 13.