Senior, vulnerable homeowners and renters are focal point of new legislation

Legislation has been introduced by Pennsylvania State Representatives this week that will equalize income levels, increase rebate amounts, and raise the highest income bracket for senior and vulnerable homeowners and renters. 

Seeking to expand Pennsylvania’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate (PTRR) Program, State Reps. Izzy Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster) and Carol Hill-Evans (D-York) introduced the legislation on Monday. 

“It has become too hard to afford a home in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Smith-Wade-El said in a statement. “For many of our senior homeowners and renters, the place in which they live is a legacy of work, life, and love, and we have an obligation to protect them and that legacy by helping them stay in their homes.” 

Smith-Wade-El added that older Pennsylvanians are struggling to pay for necessities such as food and rent. 

“Despite rising inflation and cost-of-living increases,” Smith-Wade-El said, “PTRR’s income limits, rebate amounts, and other provisions have not been modified to correspond to these economic changes, resulting in fewer people qualifying for the program and the program rebates failing to provide the necessary financial assistance.” 

Smith-Wade-El stated that the PTRR has long discriminated against renters, stating that they deserve less support than homeowners. Expanding the PTRR will provide the needed support to allow seniors and individuals with disabilities to remain living in their homes. 

“If we act now to expand PTRR,” Smith-Wade-El said, “we can preserve this crucial support for thousands of seniors who would otherwise lose eligibility next year because their Social Security cost-of-living adjustments will push them above the eligibility threshold.” 

The highest available current rebate is $650 for homeowners and renters with up to $8,000 in household income, with lower rebates available for those with higher incomes; while homeowners with income up to $35,000 qualify for a property tax rebate, renters can only receive a rent rebate if their income does not exceed $15,000. 

The reforms sought by Smith-Wade-El and Hill-Evans in their legislation would have the same income brackets and increase the rebate amounts for homeowners and renters: those with income below $15,000 would be eligible for a $1,300 rebate; those with an income of $15,001-$25,000 would be eligible for a $975 rebate, and those with an income of $25,001-$45,000 would be eligible for a $650 rebate.

“Significantly, the legislation would extend the highest income bracket from $35,000 to $45,000 to match today’s cost of living and so provide thousands more Pennsylvanians the support they deserve from the PTRR,” Smith-Wade-El said. 

Hill-Evans urged legislators to act quickly to expand the housing protections to protect Pennsylvania residents who are in danger of losing their homes. 

“None of our vulnerable neighbors deserve to lose the roof over their head,” Hill-Evans said in a statement. “It’s the right thing to do, especially when you consider the current economic climate and how long it’s been since we’ve adjusted the program’s income parameters.” 

Smith-Wade-El wondered how many Pennsylvania grandmothers and grandfathers are being pushed out of their homes by rising living costs. The legislation introduced by him and Hill-Evans, Smith-Wade-El said, will “help expand the safety net so that senior and disabled members of our community can keep their roofs over their heads.” 

A sense of urgency to reform the PTRR program is shared by Gov. Josh Shapiro, Smith-Wade El said. In his inaugural budget address Shapiro proposed expanding the PTRR Program by raising income eligibility caps to $45,000 for both homeowners and renters, indexing eligibility caps to inflation, and increasing maximum rebates to $1,000.  

The first major update since 2006, these changes would expand program eligibility to 173,000 individuals and increase assistance to an additional 398,000 people. 

Smith-Wade-El and Hill-Evans said they look forward to partnering with Shapiro to expand PTRR so that vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities in Pennsylvania can stay in their homes. 

OPINION: Better efficiency makes Northampton’s proposed tax cut possible

The big announcement from my 2022 Budget Address is a proposal to cut the Northampton County Real Estate Property tax by 1 mill. Currently, the County’s millage rate is 11.8. Cutting the rate by one point will result in a revenue loss of approximately $8 million but, thanks to the prudent cuts we’ve made over the last three years, this reduction won’t be a one-off.

Our Department of Fiscal Affairs believes we can keep this cut as we move into the future.

How are we able to do this?  The last time Northampton County raised the property tax was for the 2017 budget. In 2016, my predecessor felt the county did not have enough money to function. This turned out to be a gross miscalculation and it has been reflected in the numbers in recent years.

Since I began my term as county executive in 2018, my team has looked for ways to reduce costs without cutting services. We’ve cut excessive travel and identified systems to improve energy efficiency in our buildings. Our departments have been aggressive in applying for Community Development Block Grants, open space and environmental lands grants and funds for rental and utility assistance.

Our purchase of the Department of Human Services in 2019 saved taxpayers $21.2 million in rent along with another $8.75 million in property taxes. It also allowed us to leverage state reimbursements for the property.

This tax cut will not come at the expense of the county services many residents rely on. In the last four years, our Public Works Department has maintained all County properties to a high standard, replaced 20 bridges and repaired three more. An additional three are currently under construction and should be finished by the end of the year. We also built and opened the County’s first Forensic Center with a state-of-the art design and solar panels on the roof as well as finishing construction on the historic Louise Moore Farmhouse.

Merged 911 service

In, 2019 our 911 Emergency Management Services Department integrated with Bethlehem’s 911. This took four years of planning and effort and, I’m proud to say, there haven’t been any disruptions since the switch. Public safety is one of my highest priorities and the county will fully fund our 911 departments so our residents can rely on a high level of service.

Northampton County also purchased electronic voting machines and E-poll books that have helped us put on secure, safe and accurate elections. Elections have been a hot button issue in recent years and more challenging to stage, especially during a pandemic. Thanks to Act 77, which passed in 2019, all Pennsylvania citizens now have the right to vote by mail.

With COVID-19 raging around the country and the world, many of our citizens choose to use this option. This has been great for voters, but it forces our Elections Office to conduct two elections on the same day, one at the polls and one by paper ballots, which increases expenses. Thanks to County Council’s willingness to step up and provide the funding, we’ve made all necessary investments in personnel and machinery such as ballot counters so our residents can have their election results within 12 hours of the polls closing.


Protecting our seniors

The biggest challenge posed by the pandemic was keeping our residents and staff safe at Gracedale Nursing Home. Gracedale is the largest long-term care facility under one roof in all of Pennsylvania. In 2019, we installed diesel generators with their own backup system to keep the electricity on during power outages. A respiratory virus always poses a risk to the seniors and the medically compromised, but COVID presented a completely different sort of crisis than functioning for a few days without power.

Gracedale staff were, and still are, heroes. They built an isolation ward with negative air flow for residents who tested positive and adopted new masking and cleaning protocols to prevent transmission of the virus. Vaccines have made a huge difference at Gracedale. After we began administering shots there last December, case numbers stabilized and we were able to bring back some of our volunteers and allow family visits.

This past year, the county used money from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan for grants to more than 1,000 small businesses and to sponsor drive-through clinics for COVID testing and vaccinations. Combatting the virus isn’t just about lives, it’s also about livelihoods. When the pandemic ends, and it will, we want our business community to be healthy and ready to supercharge our economy.

The proposed tax cut will not have a negative impact on our ability to pay our bills. Northampton County has an A-plus credit rating which means we are a high credit worthy institution. With our government reserves, we don’t expect the drop in the county real estate tax to affect our credit rating.

Lamont McClure is the Northampton County Executive.


Work begins on $90M 55+ community

A Berwyn-based developer of active senior communities began site work on its newest development, Traditions of America at Green Pond.

Site work has begun on the site near Green Pond Country Club in Bethlehem Township that will have 229 homes, said Jay Goldberg, vice president of sales and marketing for Traditions of America.

The community will be a mix of 171 single-family detached homes and 58 attached, he said.

The site plan for Traditions of America at Green Pond, an active senior community that recently started construction in Bethlehem Township. (Submitted) –

So far, Traditions of America sold 35 units, he added.

The estimated total construction cost is between $80 million and $90 million and the project should be completely finished in four to five years, depending on sales and construction.

Before securing township approvals, the plan encountered challenges, mainly stemming from the presence of wetlands on the site.

“There’s a conservation area on the site and there’s quite an involved plan to preserve and maintain the area which has been an area that migratory birds are attracted to and that will continue,” Goldberg said.

Traditions of America will keep the area as close to its natural state as possible, he said, adding that the development would not affect that area.

“We hired a company called Princeton Hydraulics that designed the plan for that in conjunction with the township,” Goldberg said.

The development will have similar features to other Traditions of America gated communities, including a clubhouse, fitness center and outdoor pool, he said.

With its proximity to Green Pond Country Club, the site has attracted interest from golfers, he added.

“We choose our locations where there’s ample entertainment, shopping, retail, health care and also where there’s demand for such projects,” Goldberg said.

The demand is coming not only from people in the local area but also those interested in migrating from New Jersey, he said.

Traditions of America has built 22 communities for those 55 and older across Pennsylvania and delivered 3,700 homes, Goldberg said. It also recently expanded into other states and will have two new locations in Ohio and Virginia, Goldberg added.

Debby Skeans, managing director and senior advisor for SVN Imperial Realty of South Whitehall Township, was the exclusive agent in the $5.4 million sale of the excess land at Green Pond Country Club, according to a news release.