SPECIAL REPORT: State Towers crisis exposed local effects of national problem

·3 min read

May 20—SHARON — After more than 26 families were displaced from the State Towers apartments in April, 13 of the former tenants have secured permanent housing.

Holly Nogay, executive director of the Mercer County Housing Authority, said 15 applied for housing and all but three people passed housing authority screening.

"Some people didn't apply here, so maybe they wanted to stay with family members or live in a different setting," Nogay said. "Some people didn't pass the screening; either the criminal background check made them ineligible or they were evicted before, or they owed money to the housing authority."

Utility providers discontinued water and gas service to the seven-story apartment building at 632 E. State St., Sharon on April 14 due to non-payment of city sewer bills and because a faulty boiler had been leaking natural gas for months.

Twenty-six families were temporarily housed in a Shenango Township hotel with lodging paid for with federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding.

The nationwide shortage of low-cost housing didn't cause the State Towers crisis, but it has made the immediate problem more difficult to solve.

Part of the problem may be attitudes attached to the phrase "affordable housing." Nogay said people think of affordable housing as the housing of last resort.

"It is safe, decent housing at an affordable rent amount," Nogay said.

Access to much of of the authority's public housing is income-based. And the income thresholds are inflexible — if a prospective tenant's income is one dollar over the guidelines, they do not qualify.

The income threshold for a family of four is $30,000. While that seems like a low figure, Nogay said a lot of people within Mercer County fall into category.

Of 20 public housing properties operated by the authority, two — Landay Apartments and Maceo A. Patterson Apartments, both in Farrell — have immediate openings, according to the authority's website. The other 18 have only waiting list availability.

Nogay said the authority also needs more landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers, where the housing authority allows the resident to find a landlord and the authority helps the resident with rent.

"There are so many landlords who do not want to do Section 8, and they're not looking at the positives," Nogay said. "There are rules and regulations to keep them and the residents safe. It's guaranteed you're going to get your rent payment."

For both public housing complexes and Section 8 apartments, the demand is outstripping the need, and increased rental prices is only increasing the pressure.

Nogay said in Section 8 the average rent before COVID was in the $500 to $600 range. After COVID, it is now in the $900 to $1,000 range.

"I think there are programs that make landlords think they could receive amounts for rent that are not feasible," Nogay said. "Some of the programs made them think they could receive amounts for rent that are not feasible. I'm not knocking those programs, but I don't know what other than that made them start changing the rent. Maybe it's the economy."

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at mklaric@sharonherald.com

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at mklaric@sharonherald.com