More Pennsylvania companies trying to boost home sales in struggling host cities

     The Pittsburgh skyline rises on the horizon behind townhouses

    The Pittsburgh skyline rises on the horizon behind townhouses" on the Allegheny River. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

    Employer-assisted housing programs are touted by urban planners, despite lack of formal research.

    Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth is the latest urban anchor employer in the Commonwealth to roll out incentives to encourage employees to buy homes in its host city.

    Allentown leaders expect to add a similar program next year, The Morning Call reports.  This is part of the city’s its high-profile community revitalization initiative, best known for the $233 million hockey arena that opened last week.

    Multiple companies in York started offering employer-assisted housing benefits this year

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    And in Pittsburgh, the state’s second-largest city, no employer offers them. But that might change now that the local government has abandoned its challenge of one hospital system’s tax-exempt status, The Bond Buyer hints

    All of those cities are struggling.

    Allentown and York, however, have avoided state intervention through Pennsylvania’s Act 47 for distressed cities.  Pittsburgh has been engaged in that process since 2003 and Harrisburg’s recovery started in 2010 – including a 20-month receivership –  and is ongoing.

    Research to the rescue

    Such incentives have been in place for decades nationwide. Often, neighborhoods improve so drastically that research isn’t needed to demonstrate the benefits to those funding and running local programs.

    But some researchers and real estate experts say a closer look at results and more precise information about outcomes would help financing these programs.

    After noticing the vacuum, Philadelphia’s Home Buy Now program manager Christopher Waters started an analysis of the 350 mortgages facilitated jointly by Home Buy Now and city employers. Waters says he expects to finish later this year.

    One program of note is by the University of Pennsylvania, which recently expanded boundaries of the neighborhood eligible for its program.  It is one of the nation’s oldest and most frequently modeled.

    A few programs wooing homebuyers to Harrisburg

    Pinnacle’s new program extends incentives to any part of eight-square-mile Harrisburg.

    Hospital representatives say full-time employees can get $5,000 toward buying a house in Harrisburg.

    Workers at all 161 sites in Pinnacle’s network are eligible, according to spokeswoman Kelly McCall.

    City government workers also are eligible for $2,000 of assistance, paid for by a $170,000 increase in Pinnacle’s payment in lieu of taxes (or PILOT) this year ($300,000 total), ABC27 reports

    Harrisburg Young Professionals also offers $1,000 cash back to new city homeowners once they’ve closed on their properties.

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