Sellersville apartments open for low-income seniors in Bucks County

Louis and Jane Pinto no longer needed the big house in Perkasie, but couldn’t afford ― much less find ― an apartment in Bucks County.

The couple, both 78, thought they would have to leave Bucks to find an affordable apartment and therefore live further away from their daughter and five grandchildren.

“People of our generation don’t talk about it, but they struggle,” said Louis Pinto, a retired insurance agent. “You can feel it when they talk about the price of everything from gas to food to energy. We don’t make more money and the price of everything goes up.”

On Friday, the couple planned to move into Sellersville Senior Residences, a government-subsidized affordable apartment complex built after seven years of work by seven funders. Inauguration ceremonies for the 50-unit complex were held in the borough on Tuesday.

The nonprofit Grace Inspired Ministries spearheaded the project, securing funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Administration, Bucks County Government, Bucks County Housing Authority, Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, among others groups.

Assistance from public sources included an $11.6 million federal low-income housing tax credit, a $2.6 million PHFA low-interest mortgage, $846,000 in reinvestment capital from Bucks County, $405,000 from the FHLB and $119,000 from the Bucks County Housing Authority.

Of the 50 apartments, eight will be reserved for people with behavioral health issues who have Section Eight vouchers. Twenty-three units were let on Tuesday and the complex is expected to be fully occupied by next month, developers said.

Rents will be income-tested and limited to people age 55 and older and earning between 20% and 60% of the area’s median family income. For example, a single person with an income of only $14,670 per year would pay only $328 per month. A couple earning $42,200 a year would pay $790 for a one-bedroom unit or $946 for a two-bed apartment, depending on terms released this week.

“Sellersville Senior Residences will bring much needed affordable housing to an area where the cost of living is rising and the supply of high-quality, cost-effective rental housing for seniors is very limited,” said Dan McKee, president of Grace Inspired. Ministries.

Affordable housing was one of the biggest community needs identified in a survey released earlier this year by the Bucks County Opportunity Council, the county’s lead anti-poverty agency.

Nearly half of Bucks County renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, creating what advocates call a “housing cost burden.” The average dollar rent was $1,257 a month, according to the 2019 U.S. Community Census — and that was before the pandemic sent prices skyrocketing.

Seniors are not immune to financial hardship related to housing.

According to the 2020 US Census, one in five seniors who owned a home spent 30% or more of their annual income on home ownership. Among seniors who rented an apartment, half spent 30% or more of their income on rent, according to census estimates.

Sellersville seniors' residences were funded by a low-income housing tax credit from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

The average Bucks County resident age 60 and older receives about $23,503 in Social Security income.

At the same time, developers have struggled to build affordable housing in Bucks County and have encountered resistance even for projects involving seniors.

Bensalem has spent years developing an affordable housing center for seniors who have also served in the US military, and even that project has met with some resistance from neighbors who say the building doesn’t fit. to the surrounding neighborhood of single-family homes.

More federal and state money is needed to incentivize developers to build affordable housing in Bucks County, said Robin Weismann, president and CEO of PHFA. Weismann attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony and implored those present to keep developing projects.

“We just need more developments like this,” Weismann said. “I would simply build them, if I were king of the world. I must encourage all of you, whatever role you play, to find more, to cuddle more, and to do more.”

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To be successful, developers must have community support and proper zoning for multi-family housing in a community.

For projects to work, developers also need to find cheap land, said Jeff Fields, director of community development and housing for Bucks County. “Rent and housing prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, making the need for affordable homes like this for seniors on fixed incomes even more important.”

The Sellersville Seniors Apartments were built on a former industrial site known to have underground storage tanks that would require cleaning. (Two tanks were suspected at the site. A third was discovered during the cleanup process.)

A bowl of lemons adorns the kitchen of a one-bedroom unit at Sellersville Seniors Residences.  The community is open to residents age 55 and older who earn between 20% and 60% of the area's median family income

Seniors living on fixed incomes are really struggling to keep up with inflation, Louis Pinto said. He was thrilled to move into his new apartment but dismayed at the number of apartments available for low-income seniors.

“We are the people who are really hurting right now,” Pinto said. “It’s sad that they don’t have 2,000 units here for seniors who need it.”