Chesco hopes to house vets in new 48-unit development

The apartment complex, in an artist's rendering. The building at right is the Whitehall Inn, which developers would refurbish to house the superintendent and to be a social space for residents. Word from the state is expected June 12.
The apartment complex, in an artist's rendering. The building at right is the Whitehall Inn, which developers would refurbish to house the superintendent and to be a social space for residents. Word from the state is expected June 12.
Posted: May 31, 2014

Dale Gravett, director of Chester County's Housing Authority, was sure that a plan to build affordable apartments for homeless veterans would get the state funding last year that it needed to become a reality. But it fell short.

Now, Gravett, other county officials, and the Philadelphia developer behind the project in East Vincent Township are waiting anxiously to find out whether this year will be different.

On June 12, Mission First Housing Group will know whether it will get low-income housing tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency that would make up more than 80 percent of the roughly $9.63 million it needs to go forward with the project, a 48-unit development that would incorporate and refurbish the historic Whitehall Inn on Schuylkill Road.

Without the tax credits, the development cannot happen.

"Hopefully, we'll get great news," Gravett said. "This will be a tremendous shot in the arm."

Since last year, when the state agency passed it over for funding, the project has won final zoning approval, and state officials have visited the site. Gravett said he was even more confident this year that the project will survive the competitive tax-credit process.

The need is clear, even as the number of veterans who are homeless in the county has dropped over the last five years, from a high of about 120 to about 65 last year, said Pat Bokovitz, director of the county's Department of Community Development.

In Chester County, veterans come to the Coatesville VA Medical Center for services and want to stay in the county, which creates more need for veterans' housing, he said.

The Whitehall Inn project is part of Chester County's commitment to house veterans, county officials said. Thirty-five of the units would always be reserved for veterans.

The county is also in the midst of its campaign to house 100 homeless veterans in 100 days, a period that ends June 27. It was the county's response to the federal government's goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The county, which started its push in March, is halfway toward its goal. The campaign is also part of the county's broader 10-year plan to end homelessness in Chester County.

Bokovitz stressed the importance of starting construction on the Whitehall Inn project as soon as possible, so the developer can finish the exterior work before winter.

Two years ago, when talks began about the project, the VA said it could not find affordable apartments for veterans who needed housing, said Mark Deitcher, director of business development at Mission First Housing Group. It wanted a place where veterans could go for both housing and services, he said.

After the Whitehall Inn project is completed, the VA said it would send at least one case manager to direct veterans living at the site to services, including job training and job searches.

The refurbished Whitehall Inn will house a live-in superintendent, and be a social space for residents.

The development project has the support of State Sens. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) and John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), State Rep. Tim Hennessey (R., Chester), the county's Department of Community Development, the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, and the Spring-Ford Chamber of Commerce in Montgomery County.

"It is important for the veterans in the community," Bokovitz said. "We're just very hopeful the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency will see the value of it as well."


BY THE NUMBERS

$9.63M is needed to complete the project.

48 units in the development.

35 units reserved for veterans.

120 homeless veterans in Chester County five years ago.

65 homeless veterans in Chester County last year.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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