Perryville Vets Housing Stirs Cecil County Debate; Kilby’s to Get $
A long-proposed project to develop housing for homeless veterans on the grounds of the Perry Point VA hospital in Perryville drew more questions before the Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday as the county’s housing director warned that proposed demands could siphon off housing aid from families in the county.
David Mahaney, the county’s housing director, said he was concerned that the Veterans Administration and its selected developer of housing units on the grounds of the federal installation are trying to get the county to give up control of some of the federal “Section 8” housing aid vouchers that the county doles out to individual families. He said the VA is trying to get “project-based” housing money, instead of the intended “choice” element of the federal housing aid program, through which poor families are supposed to be able to choose where they want to live and use their vouchers to help pay their rent.
Mahaney urged the Commissioners to reject that concept, since it runs counter to the “choice” aspect of the federal program. In its overall housing aid program, the county has followed a “mom and pop” approach, by declining to give Section 8 vouchers to apartment projects to concentrate poor families in one complex and instead allow families to choose housing throughout the county so there is not a concentration of subsidized tenants in one development.
The Perry Point proposal has triggered much concern in the town of Perryville, which has been worried that town police, EMS and other resources would be strained by the project but, because it is located on tax-exempt federal property, would not have to contribute to the costs of services.
The unusual nature of the project has been described in past VA documents, which state that the federal agency will act as a “landlord” for a private developer that will renovate housing units and operate them for future tenants. The project involves what are now 60 aging and vacant housing units that are anticipated to be turned into 44 units for veterans—or others. (Sixteen houses will be converted to dorms for volunteers for the AmeriCorps program that operates in this area from the Perry Point facility.)
Last year, the VA announced it had selected a New York-based non-profit group, HELP USA, to co-ordinate the project at Perry Point. The organization has operated similar vets and homeless people projects around the nation.
VA officials have said that no developer would touch the project if they could only provide housing to vets, so some non-veterans may be housed at Perry Point. The “others” part of the equation is what bothers Cecil County officials and representatives of local veterans organizations, Mahaney said.
He also explained that the developers wanted to tie the county’s hands on its Section 8 housing aid so as to “guarantee their return on investment” but the county could be left holding the bag to use its subsidy funds to pay rent on apartments that might not even be occupied.
Mahaney has drafted a letter to the state’s U.S. Senators asking them to intervene to address multiple concerns of the county and the town of Perryville. Among the issues are questions of legal, fire, EMS and police jurisdiction if problems arise on the federal property; where the “homeless” people will come from, since there are fewer than 100 homeless vets in Cecil County; wastewater treatment issues, including use of the town’s facilities even though the town has not agreed to provide such services; traffic problems; demands for services will not be compensated since the housing is on federally-owned, tax exempt property.
County Commissioners agreed to work with the town and the congressional delegation to seek answers to their questions.
In other business, the county is poised to give nearly $8,000 to the Kilby family for easements and inconvenience to their farm operation on Firetower Road in Colora due to work to repair the bridge over Basin Run.
The commissioners normally talk ad nauseum about even the slightest public works project and expenditure but there was no discussion, or even mention of the cost, at Tuesday’s worksession when it was disclosed that the county would be entering into an easement agreement with the politically-connected Kilby family.
Cecil Times subsequently confirmed that the Kilby’s— former County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby and her husband, Bill, who is president of the Cecil Land Trust and a frequent petitioner for county funds for that organization’s farm preservation agenda—would receive $7,925 for an “option” and easements, as well as “compensation” for the inconvenience of construction due to work to replace the bridge on Firetower Road over Basin Run.
The Kilby’s have previously received hundreds of thousands of dollars from state and federal programs to develop and promote their dairy operations and their “value-added agriculture” ice cream parlor. When Mrs. Kilby was a county commissioner, she also voted on her own property to receive a special property tax break under state and county programs.
[UPATE: The County Commisioners unanimously approved the funds for the Kilby's at their Tuesday evening meeting on a voice vote. Again, there was no discussion among the commissioners of the money going to the Kilby's and no dollar figure was stated in public.]