Historic inn in Chester County gets a facelift, new lease on life housing homeless vets

     A new center for homeless veterans in Spring City will incorporate the Whitehall Inn. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    A new center for homeless veterans in Spring City will incorporate the Whitehall Inn. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Finding affordable housing for veterans is difficult in Chester County, the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania per capita, according to executive director of the Housing Authority of Chester County Dale Gravett.

    That’s why Gravett has pushed for creating new housing from scratch, such as the newest development at 3795 Schuylkill Road in Spring City.

    There’s also something unique about the property, said Gravett.

    Working with affordable housing developer Mission First, “they found this vacant property for sale,” he said. “It just happened to have a Colonial inn on it.” According to the East Vincent Township website, the Whitehall Inn opened in 1762 but has since fallen into disrepair.

    Whitehall Inn - RenderingMission First Housing Group will renovate the existing historic Whitehall Inn and construct an addition that will create permanent housing for at least 50 veterans. (Rendering provided by Housing Authority of Chester County)

    Fixing up this historic property is just a bonus for a new housing project that will house 48 local veterans, 35 of whom have experienced homelessness.

    “It will come back to life,” said Gravett, when it’s attached to the apartment complex and holding the development’s administrative offices. “I think it will be a wonderful thing for the community to see that building restored.”

    Compared with the life of the inn, the development of the new Whitehall housing complex has been relatively short. Gravett and Mission First applied for low income housing tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency three years in a row before securing around $11 million toward the $12.7 million dollar project.

    Developing new housing, as opposed to relying on the tenant marketplace, has several advantages said Gravett. “We know exactly how much rents are,” said Gravett. “It’s much easier from our standpoint,” to work with only one landlord.

    While the number of housing choice vouchers, also called Section 8 vouchers, has stayed relatively flat in recent years, additional resources are earmarked for ending veteran homelessness. Called the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, or VASH, these vouchers are a joint project of the Offices of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.  With 394 are allotted to Chester County, 300 are so far in use.

    Mark Deitcher, director of business development with Mission First, said veterans are allowed to use only 30 percent of their income toward housing, with vouchers covering the rent.

    Many are on fixed income, and “some of them could be paying as little as $50 to $100 a month in rent,” he said. The average cost for a one bedroom apartment in Chester County is between $900 and $1,100.

    Most referrals in the county come from the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the VA will place social worker to support veterans in the housing project.

    The new Whitehall Housing Complex is slated for completion next year.

    According to a Mission First news release, more than 250 veterans are homeless or in transitional housing in Chester County.

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