WEST CHESTER — It is a rude fact of life that when you have a place with wealth, employment, education and career opportunities it costs more to live there than some place that lacks those advantages.
“San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., or Chester County, when you have a community that is doing well, (the costs of housing) will be a challenge,” said Pat Bokovitz, the head of the Chester County Department of Community Development.
That is why it is important for the county to assist in the creation of affordable housing projects in two of its more desirable urban communities — West Chester and Kennett Square — officials say.
Last week, the county commissioners approved contracts totaling more than $1.7 million to begin construction on two such projects, the Melton Center Apartments in West Chester and Red Clay Manor in Kennett Square. The two projects will provide rental units for singles, families, and seniors, Bokovitz said.
Commissioners’ Chairwoman Marian Moskowitz agreed with Bokovitz’s sentiments about what drives housing costs in the county up.
“As one of the wealthiest counties in the state and the nation, Chester County is sought after when it comes to finding a place to live,” she said. “But the truth is, not everyone can afford to live here, including those who have grown up here.
“By adding affordable homes to areas like West Chester and Kennett Square, we are promoting diverse, well-rounded communities and strengthening our urban center offerings,” Moskowitz said. “The county is pleased to be a partner in backing these two developments.”
Someone who is in need of affordable housing is defined by the county as a person with income at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income. Bokovitz said that translates to a single person living in the county making $40,620 a year of less, and a family of four with income of $57,960 or less. The rents paid should equal somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of the person’s income.
The average rent for an apartment in the county — where luxury apartment construction is on the rise — is $1,350 a month. In some new complexes in West Chester and Kennett, the rents can soar to more than $2,700 a month — out of the range for people on the lower end of the income scale but who need housing in the county.
“We are talking about working people,” Bokovitz said of the Melton project. “That is what these homes are for.”
Construction of the Melton Center Apartments is set to begin in July and should be completed by September 2021. The development will provide 51 affordable townhouse and apartment rental units in the Borough of West Chester on Market, Manor and Worthington Streets. The county had already designated $850,000 in HOME Investment Partnership Program funds through the Department of Community Development.
The total cost of the project is $15.8 million, and the development partners are Church Housing Corp., NRP Group LLC and the Melton Center. Those who lease apartments there will be a mix of ages and sizes — both singles and families.
“The beauty of the Melton Center Apartments project is that it represents the best in a partnership with far-reaching community benefits,” said commissioner’s Vice Chairman Josh Maxwell. “Not only will new, affordable homes in this area broaden the mix of people who live here, work here and play here, but it is also a great connection to Chester County’s Decade to Doorways initiative. It provides additional permanent housing options at affordable rates for those who may be transitioning from homelessness, or those who may be at risk of becoming homeless.
“And because it is located on land owned by the Melton Center, a portion of the rental income generated goes back to supporting programs and operations at the Melton Center, a beloved organization that provides educational, recreational, cultural and civic services within West Chester.”
The second development, the affordable senior housing Red Clay Manor, will receive $920,000 in HOME Investment Partnership Program funds from the county. It is scheduled to break ground this fall, and should be completed by the end of 2021.
This project will add 60 affordable rental apartments for seniors aged 62-plus, within total cost of this project is $15.9 million, and the development partners are Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, CREA, Citizens Bank and the Housing Authority of Chester County.
Commissioner Michelle Kichline added, “Kennett Square is one of Chester County’s many thriving urban centers, and we are pleased to have invested close to $5 million over the past 17 years in community revitalization program funds to help strengthen the town’s infrastructure to enable it to grow and thrive.
“Many of the older homes in Kennett Square are not practical for senior living because they are multilevel. Red Clay Manor fills a gap in the borough, allowing seniors to remain there in practical new homes, and at a reasonable cost.
“Not only that,” said Kichline, “but the development adds to Kennett’s successful fabric.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.