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Projects in 10 jurisdictions across PA will receive the grant funding to preserve affordable housing units, ranging from suburban Montgomery County to rural Indiana County. (Jenny Kane/The Associated Press)

(Harrisburg) —  Spiking housing costs are creating a shortage of affordable options in Pennsylvania’s suburbs and rural areas, state officials said this week as they announced $3.4 million dollars in new grants to preserve affordable housing units outside of the state’s largest cities.

“Across Pennsylvania, the need for what we would consider affordable, safe, decent housing exists regardless of your ZIP code, regardless of where you’re located,” said Kathy Possinger, director of the state agency that oversees community and economic development. “This is one of the tools we have in our toolbox of resources to be able to assist our smaller boroughs towns, townships and counties to address the growing need to preserve and grow affordable housing.”

Projects in 10 jurisdictions across PA will receive the grant funding, ranging from suburban Montgomery County to rural Indiana County.

With green lawns and white picket fences, Abington Township is hardly a poster child for gentrification. However, the state department of community and economic development
reports that housing costs have doubled in this Montgomery County suburb over the past 20 years and the township will receive a $500,000 DCED grant aimed at rehabbing eight houses for people earning low to moderate incomes there.

Possinger said this latest round of grants is reflective of the broader nature of what is sometimes thought of as a primarily urban issue. She said the problem of burdensome housing costs were the same for city and country residents, although the nature of these costs sometimes varied. In some growing suburbs, rising tax bills and larger homes can make upkeep costs burdensome for seniors.

Other older suburbs have alternatively seen rising poverty rates. More far-flung communities have, meanwhile, experienced extreme deindustrialization, abandonment and deteriorating housing stock.

The most recent grants, which were funded through an annual infusion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME program, will only cover home repair and rehabilitation work — preserving, but not expanding the supply of affordable homes.

“A lot of homeowners are spending a substantial amount of their personal resources to just get by,” she said. “The larger housing systems — plumbing improvements or electrical work — the things you might not see from the street, are the things that go unaddressed.”

Possinger said that many rural and suburban areas have also faced an extreme shortage of rental units, driving up the costs of the ones that are available.

“The demand has been exceptional and its driven up those costs in many communities,” she said. “But we didn’t have any specific projects addressing rental in this specific round of funding.”

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