Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

May News Digest

Businesses Receive Stabilization Grants

More than 300 Harrisburg-licensed businesses last month received $5,000 grants to help them survive the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The city and Impact Harrisburg announced the awards from a pool of money funded by both entities.

“We wanted to fund as many businesses as we possibly could across the broad spectrum,” said Sheila Dow-Ford, executive director of Impact Harrisburg, a nonprofit set up following the city’s financial crisis to help spur economic development. “So we are hoping we hit the mark in that regard.”

The program allowed businesses to request up to $10,000, but, given the large number of applicants, Impact Harrisburg decided to give $5,000 grants to all qualified applicants.

Initially, both the city and Impact Harrisburg were to contribute $500,000 to a $1 million fund, with the city’s portion originating from its dormant “revolving loan fund.”

However, qualified applications exceeded the initial funding, so Impact Harrisburg kicked in another $750,000. The city now is considering adding money for a second round of funding.

“Our goal is to keep these businesses afloat so, when it is time to reopen, they have a fighting chance of surviving and bouncing back, hopefully stronger than ever,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

Recipient Angel Fox of Fox’s Wash and Go said that the grant will allow her to repair washing machines in her Allison Hill laundromat, as customers have been “over-stuffing” the machines to try to stretch their own limited financial resources.

Elementary Coffee Co.’s Andrea Grove said that, beyond the money, she appreciated that care was taken to distribute the grants to all deserving, qualified applicants.

“We desperately need this money, but so many other people need it as well,” she said. “That is a beautiful testament to the care that this community has for each individual business and the position that they are in.”

For recipient Lori Reese, the money will help her sustain her personal organizing business, Consider It Done LLC, and it will help offset additional costs brought on by the crisis. Like many companies, she’s been forced to do more business online, which has meant extra, unanticipated costs to expand her virtual presence, capabilities and security.

Reese also mentioned a non-financial benefit of the program. Much like Grove, she said that she appreciates the effort, caring and the creativity that her city and Impact Harrisburg showed for the small business community here.

“I feel valued as a city business and a city resident,” she said. “Because it’s local, it means more to me.”


Harrisburg Area Enters Yellow Phase

Most of the Harrisburg area last month entered the less-restrictive “yellow” phase of the state’s phased reopening plan.

In south-central PA, Cumberland, York, Perry and Adams counties were the first to transition from the red phase to the yellow phase in late May. A week later, Dauphin and Lebanon counties joined them.

On June 5, Lancaster County, along with the remainder of “red” counties in the commonwealth, will transition to yellow, Gov. Tom Wolf announced.

Wolf credited the policies of the state government for helping to cut the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Cases peaked in early April at almost 2,000 new cases a day and gradually fell to fewer than 1,000 new cases a day.

“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact—we know that saved lives,” Wolf said. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do. It saved lives, and it bought us valuable time.”

The state government uses a tri-color red/yellow/green system to guide re-openings in the commonwealth.

Under the red phase, people are supposed to observe strict “stay-at-home” orders, and “non life-sustaining” businesses cannot operate from their physical locations. Under yellow, these restrictions are eased, but limits remain in place. For instance, schools must remain closed, bars and restaurants are stilled banned from offering sit-down dining, and gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited.

Under the green phase, most restrictions are lifted, though large crowds remain prohibited. Late last month, 17 mostly rural counties in the northwest and north-central parts of the state entered the green phase.


Allison Hill Project Gets Go-Ahead

One of the largest housing developments on Allison Hill in recent years is slated to move forward, as Harrisburg City Council last month approved a plan for a multi-building project just off of Market Street.

Council unanimously approved the land use plan by TLC Cornerstone Renewal to construct 26 townhouses, a 24-unit apartment building and a community center in a five-block area bounded by N. 15th Street, Walnut Street and Crabapple Street.

“This is such a blighted area,” council President Wanda Williams said during a council work session. “It certainly will enhance this area.”

At that work session, developer Tarik Casteel, president of TLC, told council members that he hopes to break ground in the early fall on the $14.7 million affordable housing project on the 2.1-acre site.

“This project will be big in this community,” he said. “It’s definitely needed, not just in this community but in several areas of the city of Harrisburg.”

Nearly two years ago, TLC cut the ribbon on its first big project, the 20-unit Harrisburg Uptown Building (HUB) and the HUB Veteran Housing Campus.

Casteel told council that the new Allison Hill project would be just the first phase of a three-phase project for the area. He expects a 16-month construction period for the first phase.

“In Allison Hill, there is definitely a need,” he said. “This was one of the worst areas of the city. That’s why we wanted to come into this area, because it is the worst.”


Council Approves CDBG Disbursement

Harrisburg City Council last month approved the disbursement of annual federal housing funds.

The city set aside money from its share of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for use by nonprofit “sub-recipients.” These included: 

  • A Miracle for Sure: $13,810
  • Center for Employment Opportunities: $13,810
  • Communities in Schools: $13,810
  • Heinz Menaker Senior Center: $14,000
  • Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC): $13,810
  • Neighborhood Dispute Settlement: $13,810
  • Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Network: $13,810
  • The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region: $25,000

The city also distributed federal Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding to the following organizations:

  • Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness: $24,000
  • Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area: $63,000
  • Shalom House: $43,100
  • YWCA Greater Harrisburg: $50,000

These funds originate from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and, every year, the city sets aside some of the money for use by community nonprofits.


Harrisburg Plans Cyber School

Come fall, Harrisburg school district students will have another way to learn, as district officials have announced a new, full-time cyber school.

Last month, officials unveiled the Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy, which is meant to broaden educational options and offer an alternative to cyber charter schools.

“Early on, we asked our teachers to make calls to get feedback from our families. This was way back in March,” said Susan Sneath, chief academic officer for the district. “They were already telling us there was no way they were going to send their children back to [the brick-and-mortar] school.”

Sneath knew the district needed to have another option for students. Thus, the Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy (HVLA) was established.

According to the district, the HVLA will be full-time and free to Harrisburg students. The program offers K-to-12th grade enrollment, in which each student is provided a Chromebook.

This differs from the district’s existing Cougar Academy, which is a “blended” cyber program that requires that students also spend time inside the classroom. In contrast, HVLA is fully remote.

Students will receive recorded instruction from teachers with additional meetings as needed. While the school is primarily online, there are face-to-face tutoring options, including English language arts and math. Special education teachers, English as a second language teachers and reading specialists will be available to provide support.

Sneath explained that students will continue to receive academic advising through an assigned counselor and can expect outreach from a social worker to aid with social and emotional needs. Technology support will be readily available, as well, during school hours.

The school district plans to use trained educators from the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, an entity that supports local school districts. Additional faculty, such as counselors and academic advisors, will come from Harrisburg staff.

Students in HVLA can participate in academic advancement such as Advanced Placement courses and “gifted” programs. They will also be tied to their neighborhood’s school, which will allow access to all special events and extracurricular activities such as picture day, athletics and prom.

All HVLA students are considered Harrisburg Cougars, and they will receive a diploma from the Harrisburg school district.

In the past, students in the district seeking online education have often looked to cyber charter schools, but Sneath hopes that this option curbs that.

“We want to keep our kids, and we want to provide the very best for our kids,” she said. “We developed HVLA with that in mind.”

HVLA will not take the place of the district’s remote learning plan for students in the case that students can’t return to school buildings in the fall. The cyber-school is only for those who enroll.

“The intent for the people who enroll in HVLA is that they are going to stay in HVLA,” Sneath said.


Development Projects Approved

Two significant development projects in Harrisburg should soon break ground after receiving final approval by the city.

City Council last month unanimously approved a land development plan by the Hudson Companies to build a 130,000-square-foot office building on the 2500-block of N. 7th Street, the site of the former headquarters of D&H Distributing.

The Hermitage, Pa.-based company plans to demolish D&H’s low-slung building and construct a new, three-story, brick-and-glass building on the site. Hudson then will enter into a long-term lease with the commonwealth, which plans to locate about 850 Department of Human Services and Office of Administration workers there. Most will move from the former Harrisburg State Hospital grounds, which the state is trying to sell.

Hudson hopes to break ground on the project in several months, with completion in late 2021.

City Council also approved a land development plan for the construction of four new townhouses on the 600-block of Woodbine Street. The nearby Camp Curtin YMCA plans to undertake the $1 million affordable housing project on vacant land currently owned by the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority.

Jamien Harvey, the Camp Curtin YMCA executive director, said he hoped that this project would just be the first phase of building more affordable housing in the area.

Harvey said that the houses, which will cost about $175,000 apiece to build, will sell for $70,000 to $80,000.

“We are looking to change the look of our neighborhood,” he said. “We’re looking to eliminate blight. We’re looking to cut down on the drugs and the violence in our neighborhood, and we’re looking to building a community with pride. This is one of many projects to come.”


Preliminary School Budget Approved

The Harrisburg school district last month approved a preliminary budget for next school year, using federal aid to close a substantial budget gap.

District Receiver Janet Samuels accepted the $157.6 million spending plan, which does not raise school taxes for the 2020-21 year.

The district took a $4.2 million hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Unexpectedly, the district had to lower anticipated revenue from earned income taxes, PILOT tax payments, real estate taxes and increases in the state’s basic and special education subsidies.

To help close the deficit, the district was awarded a $4.7 million grant from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, those funds expire Sept. 30, according to Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer.

“It’s going to take time to work through logistics of how we are able to spend that,” he said.

Celmer said that, if additional state funding doesn’t eliminate the deficit, a staff realignment may help, along with the CARES Act funding.

The 2020-21 budget is $8.6 million higher than the current, 2019-20 school year’s projected final budget. Employee salaries and benefits, along with other higher expenses, are causing the increased spending, according to the district.

Another virtual budget workshop is scheduled for June 15. A final decision on a 2020-21 spending plan is expected on June 22.

The proposed completed budget will be available to the public on the district’s website for 30 days before the last meeting in June.


School Board Appointment

The Harrisburg school district has named Nora Carreras to its board of directors, filling an open seat following the death of Gerald Welch.

District Receiver Janet Samuels last month appointed Carreras, who works for the PA Department of Human Services, due to her “long history as a public servant along with her wealth of knowledge of resources that support children, families and the broader Harrisburg community.”

Under state code, Samuels had 30 days to fill the seat, which was left open after Welch died of COVID-19 complications on April 15.  Welch was elected last year to the nine-member board and was in the first year of a four-year term. Carreras’ appointment runs through next year.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Ms. Nora Carreras to the Harrisburg school board of directors,” said Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer. “Ms. Carreras has a proven track record of providing advocacy and support for at-risk families through the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Carreras expressed excitement for the opportunity.

“I am honored to join and support the district’s effort to bring increased educational quality and fiscal accountability,” she said. “Every student in the city of Harrisburg deserves the opportunity to thrive, to learn in a supportive environment and reach their full potential.”


Home Sales Down, Prices Up

Sales dropped but prices rose in the Harrisburg area, as the realtor’s association released its first report during a full month of COVID-19 restrictions.

In April, 455 homes sold in the three-county area, compared to 619 in April 2019, but the median price increased to $200,000 compared to $180,000 a year ago, according to the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors (GHAR).

In Dauphin County, 212 houses sold at a median price of $173,000, versus 294 houses at a median price of $167,000 in the year-ago period, GHAR said.

Cumberland County saw 222 houses change hands compared to 296 a year ago, while the median price rose to $235,000 from $202,500. Perry County bucked the trend, with 21 houses selling for a median price of $173,000 compared to 29 houses for $200,000 a year ago.

For the three-county region, days on the market dropped to an average of 50 days versus 53 days the previous April, according to GHAR.


So Noted

TheBurg received 16 individual and group 2020 Keystone Media Awards in the annual peer-reviewed contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Foundation. These awards cover a wide range of categories, including for reporting, editorial writing, column writing, illustration, photography and design. TheBurg also won the coveted “Sweepstakes” award for best performance in its category statewide.


Changing Hands

Benton St., 607: D. Thomas to Neidlinger Enterprises LLC, $60,000

Brookwood St., 2462: K. Boyer to CR Property Group LLC, $47,000

Calder St., 321: R. & F. Armetta to 1037 Maclay St. LLC, $70,000

Chestnut St., 1810: CR Property Group LLC to C. Blodgett, $91,500

Derry St., 2531: J. Hocker to J. Einzig, $72,500

Edgewood Rd., 2315: I. & A. MacFarlane to E. Shaner, $214,000

Edward St., 260: J. Dudick to Realm Properties LLC, $97,000

Fulton St., 1707: K. Herbe to A. Murray, $124,900

Fulton St., 1714: N. Smith to N. Pachella & M. Pickup, $127,500

Grand St., 920: M. & A. Bukowski to E. Fisher, $115,000

Green St., 1710: M. Della Porta to B. & B. Hinnenkamp, $210,000

Green St., 1931: N. Condon to S. Agbaw, $204,900

Green St., 2003: S. Biray to B. Maurer & M. Zia, $194,500

Green St., 2043: R. Shokes Jr. to D. & T. Schutt, $214,900

Green St., 2328: J. & L. Leahy to Moxie Properties LLC, $41,000

Holly St., 1815: CR Property Group LLC to B. Nevid, $105,000

Kelker St., 317: Wilmington Trust NA to BDS Property Group LLC, $62,000

Lexington St., 2619: CR Property Group LLC to A. Bertschmann, $105,000

Logan St., 2247: CR Property Group LLC to J. & A. Oates, $101,000

Logan St., 2305: B. & K. Saltzgiver to C. & R. Herr, $42,000

North St., 242: J. & S. Wesley to J. Lucia, $105,000

N. 2nd St., 2525: P. & A. Ramos to A. Arturet, $205,000

N. 3rd St., 1604: C. Overbaugh to A., P. & T. Bair, $124,000

N. 3rd St., 2435: D. & G. Laninga to D. & M. Lambert, $149,900

N. 4th St., 1336: R. & F. Armetta to 1037 Maclay St. LLC, $80,900

N. 4th St., 2442: M. & N. Godfrey to Graevel Holdings LLC, $50,000

N. 4th St., 3111: B. Redman to D. Miller & M. Strouse, $138,000

N. 6th St., 2446: J. Urena to R. Contreras & Y. Vargas, $230,000

N. 14th St., 226: W. Cruz to J. Bowen, $66,000

N. 15th St., 1336: M. Smith to J. Valverde, $50,000

N. 16th St., 814: D. Boyle to E. Reyes, $30,000

N. 16th St., 1105: K. Drayton to N. Gutierrez, $50,000

N. 16th St., 1219: L. Wolf to J. Cruz, $42,000

N. Front St., 2509: Pennsylvania Builders Association to Morning Star Pregnancy Services, $475,000

Parkway Blvd., 2509: A. & L. Smith to J. & M. Torres, $135,000

Penn St., 1208: R. Christ & D. Cole to Wheatland Restore LLC, $88,501

Pennwood St., 3202: CR Property Group LLC to A. Bertschmann, $110,000

Revere St., 1720: Atlantic NorthStar Properties LLC to N. de los Santos, $49,000

Race St., 542: N. Fenstermacher to A. Dullebawn & A. Ditzler, $140,000

Reily St., 206: D. Burnham to Fratelli Property Investments, $135,439

Rudy Rd., 2339: W. MacMichael to L. Kurutz, $169,900

Seneca St., 623: Atlantic NorthStar Properties LLC to J. Thieu, $44,000

S. 18th St., 1033: Secretary of Housing & Urban Development to F. Ramos, $30,100

S. 25th St., 448: K. & M. Stone to G. Bedasa, $115,000

S. 25th St., 616: P. & L. Brown to R. Reyes & F. Nunez, $65,000

S. Front St., 601: R. & L. Firestone to J. Shen, $184,900

Swatara St., 1913: G. Amador & C. Vargas to J. Tejada, $62,000

Sycamore St., 1726: Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC to D&F Realty Holdings LP, $30,000

Harrisburg property sales for April 2020, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.

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