As debates about housing prices swirl in City Council chambers, Harrisburg’s busiest downtown developer is dipping its toe into affordable housing policies.
Harristown Enterprises, the real estate company that has developed dozens of apartments in downtown Harrisburg since 2016, will soon implement a workforce housing policy for its rental units, CEO Brad Jones told TheBurg.
Jones said that Harristown will reserve 10 percent of its downtown units for employees of Harrisburg Property Services, the Harristown subsidiary that provides janitorial, security and maintenance services to its properties.
“These are our folks who clean and maintain buildings, our plumbers, electricians, construction guys,” Jones said. “They’re the people who fix and maintain everything here and keep the place safe and clean.”
Any HPS employee whose household earns $40,600 per year, which is 80 percent of Dauphin County’s median household income, will qualify for the program.
Participating employees will also get a modest reduction on their market-rate rent. According to Jones, prices for Harristown’s downtown apartments range from $750 to $1,500 per month. An apartment that rents for $800 or less will get a $50 reduction, while those renting for more than $800 will be reduced by $75 per month.
Jones said that Harristown followed federal affordability guidelines to set its program criteria and eligibility standards. The rule of thumb set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is that any household spending more than 30 percent of its total income on housing – rent or mortgage plus utilities – is considered cost-burdened. Most affordable housing programs, from the federal to local level, aim to keep housing costs at or below HUD’s affordability indicator.
Jones reported that one HPS employee who already lives in a Harristown unit will have his rent reduced. Other HPS employees will be able to participate in the workforce housing program as units become available.
“We have a lot of turnover in the apartment business,” Jones said. “I don’t anticipate that people will have to wait very long.”
Harristown currently owns 60 apartments clustered in three different housing projects downtown: Strawberry Square, the Fifteen@ Twenty-Two project on S. 3rd Street and SOMA apartments on 3rd Street. All of the units are modern conversions with upscale finishes and in-unit washers and dryers, according to property listings.
Twelve more apartments are currently under development at Harristown’s newest project, “The Bogg” on 2nd and Cranberry streets.
Jones said that the workforce housing initiative was partially spurred by recent discussions in City Council, which grants final approval for any building project in the city.
Since January, council President Wanda Williams has called on Harristown and other property developers to consider low-income residents in their projects.
“I’m very in favor of developers investing in Harrisburg, but until we talk about having affordable housing for everyone–including cashiers and clerks who work in downtown bars and restaurants–in every neighborhood of our city, we have not done our jobs,” Williams said.
At a legislative session earlier this week, Williams cast the sole vote against Harristown’s newest project, which will convert a mid-century office building on Pine Street into 25 apartments. Williams said she would not vote for any development projects until she felt confident that they were providing affordable units.
But Jones also said that Harristown is responding to HPS employees who have expressed interest in downtown units. Harristown executives decided that a workforce housing program could be mutually beneficial to employees and managers.
Jones estimated that only about half of HPS employees live in Harrisburg, and many of them walk or take public transportation to work. But since many security and janitorial personnel work late hours, not all can count on using public transportation for their commutes.
“We do have some employees who have no other way to get home, so this could be a real benefit for them and for us,” Jones said. “It’s nice to have people who work for you and live a block or two away from work. Often, those folks might get called in if there’s an issue in the facility – they’re our first responders.”