Housing Authority of Chester County seeks exemption from residential inspection fees in Oxford
● By Steven Hoffman
Vince Donohue, the solicitor for the Housing Authority of Chester County, was at the Oxford Borough Council meeting on Aug. 10 to ask council to consider the request to exempt the Housing Authority from the residential inspection fees that the borough imposes when it inspects apartments.
The Housing Authority of Chester County owns the Oxford Terrace Apartments, a 48-unit facility on Market Street.
Donahue said that because the Housing Authority is a government agency that is providing housing to senior citizens and disabled residents, many of whom are on a fixed income, it is seeking relief from the $60 per unit fee that Oxford Borough charges when it does inspections every other year.
The units in Oxford Terrace already undergo annual compliance inspections, and HUD inspections are more rigorous than the borough’s, Donahue said, adding that Oxford Terrace Apartments routinely earns high scores on these evaluations.
If the borough would grant the request for relief, Donahue said that the Housing Authority would be willing to provide the borough with all the HUD inspection reports that are filed. He added that Phoenixville Borough has a similar ordinance to Oxford’s regarding the inspection fees, and Phoenixville officials have agreed not to impose the fees.
Two years ago, the Housing Authority of Chester County sought a similar exemption from the fees and Oxford Borough Council rejected the request at that time.
Oxford Borough and the Housing Authority of Chester County have had some issues that have been unresolved over the last few years. The issue that seemed to concern Oxford Borough officials the most is the fact that the units in Oxford Terrace have not undergone inspections by borough officials since perhaps as long ago as 2010. They have missed the entire last inspection cycle. Scott Moran, the borough’s codes enforcement officer, said that he has made numerous requests to be able to do the inspections, but the Housing Authority of Chester County has not been responsive to those requests.
“I think the Housing Authority is just ignoring the borough,” Moran said.
Regarding the other inspections that take place, Moran said that the borough has received some of the inspection reports that Housing Authority of Chester County has on file, but there is no telling from the documentation provided whether these inspections are as thorough has the borough’s own inspections.
Oxford Borough has pending action in court against the Housing Authority of Chester County in an attempt to get the agency to comply with the borough’s ordinances pertaining to the inspections.
Borough officials emphasized that while Housing Authority officials may question the fairness of the fees or the need for additional inspections, public safety was their top concern.
Borough Council President Ron Hershey said that the borough has an obligation to make sure that the buildings are safe for residents, and the inspections are a part of that.
“If the borough wanted to inspect the units, we’re not opposed to that,” said Donahue, reiterating that the Housing Authority wants relief from the fees, not the inspections themselves.
Hershey noted that if the borough does the inspections, but waives the fees, the borough would effectively be picking up the costs of doing the inspections.
A recent accidental fire at Oxford Terrace Apartments raised another safety concern, according to borough council member John Thompson. When firefighters arrived at the scene, there was no Knox Box in place to allow them rapid entry to the building. Instead, the firefighters had to break through a door.
Stacy Fuller, the borough's solicitor, said that borough officials could continue a dialogue with the Housing Authority of Chester County to see if they can reach agreements on some of the issues. Borough officials did not take a vote on the request for the exemption, but based on comments during discussion, it seemed unlikely that Oxford officials would approve an exemption this time unless some of the other issues are resolved.
In other business at the meeting:
~ Oxford Borough officials briefly discussed the $575,000 Community Revitalization Program grant that the borough is receiving from the county to make streetscape improvements to Wheeler Boulevard. The project will include replacing waterlines, valves, hydrants, and a stormwater system which will improve water pressure that is vital to fire protection in the area. The streetscape improvements will also include street paving, sidewalks, and ramps on Wheeler Boulevard between North Third Street and Lincoln Street.
~ Bob Prettyman, Jr., the fire chief of Union Fire Co. No. 1 of Oxford, offered a thank you to the Oxford Borough Police Department for the quick response to the fire that occurred at the Oxford Terrace Apartments several weeks ago. Prettyman said that officers Eric Hughes and Jose Reyes helped evacuate the building, keeping the residents safe during the emergency. The actions of the police officers helped avert a disaster that day, Prettyman said.