Priced Out: High rents driving housing crisis

About the series: Centre County has the lowest rate of affordable housing in Pennsylvania, according to a March 2010 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

That means high rents and low wages make it difficult for all kinds of people to find and maintain homes they can afford in the area. To examine housing disparities in Centre County, five Centre Daily Times reporters followed their subjects over the course of several months and then wove community statistics and policy information together with personal stories. The four-day series won: the 2011 Media Award from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and; first place in the enterprise reporting category in the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors News Excellence Competition. It was a finalist in the enterprise/investigative reporting category for the Western Pennsylvania Press Club 2011 Golden Quill Awards.

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Commutes costly for workers

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 1, 2010

BY ED MAHON

Before this summer, Diane Wirtz would make the 40-mile trek from Pine Glen to State College alone. Her vehicle was a Lincoln Navigator that got about 13 miles a gallon.

“The mileage and the gas, and the wear and tear on my vehicle was killing me,” said Wirtz. “It was a hardship to get back and forth to work.”

She’s one of the many people who commute into the Centre Region every day.

Read more: Commutes costly for workers.

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Mentors help mother get back on her feet

Caption: Steven Grant, 7, gets a push from his mother, Nija Crawford, during a play date at the Easterly Parkway Elementary School playground Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. CDT/Michelle Bixby

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, NOV. 30, 2010

BY ED MAHON

STATE COLLEGE — Nija Crawford has decorated her room in purple, maroon and burgundy. Her 7-year-old son, Stevie Grant, has the Spider-Man themed room, but they’re working on adding some Army fatigue elements to that one.

In the living room and kitchen, most of the furniture is donated and the cushions don’t match the couch frame. Crawford’s OK with that — grateful, really.

During two crises in the past four years, having and keeping this home seemed out of reach. At one point, after a domestic dispute with her son’s father, she and Stevie ended up in a room at a shelter.

“It was a time where it was like, ‘I’m not getting back up. I can’t. I’m not going to be able to,’ ” she said, adding that she worried about losing her son. “I pictured … having him taken away … (and) me going back to New York and living in Grand Central Station.”

Read more: Mentors help mother get back on her feet.

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Mother fights to stay afloat

Caption: Nicki Wertz sorts through paperwork while volunteering at Centre Volunteers in Medicine on Monday, October 11, 2010. CDT/Christopher Weddle

SUNDAY, NOV. 28, 2010

BY ED MAHON

On Mondays, Nicki Wertz runs the phlebotomy lab at Centre Volunteers in Medicine, drawing blood from patients.

Wertz, a single mother in her late 30s, decided to volunteer at the free clinic to keep her skills fresh as she searched for a medical assistant job. But there were other, less practical, reasons motivating her.

Like her, the patients she serves can’t afford health insurance.

“To be able to give back to your community in any way, shape or form is a good thing. … I kind of feel like I’m balancing. I’m not just taking. I’m giving something back,” she said. “That’s really rewarding.”

In September, Wertz was one of the about 4,330 Centre County residents, or 5.6 percent of the total population, who were unemployed and searching for a job. Money’s been tight for a decade, but her finances reached a crisis level in recent months.

Read more: Mother fights to stay afloat.

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150 rush to get on Centre County Rental Assistance waiting list

Caption: People wait in line to be put on the Centre County Housing Authority Section 8 housing waiting list in Bellefonte, September 15, 2010. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

THURSDAY, SEP. 16, 2010

BY ED MAHON AND ANNE DANAHY

BELLEFONTE — Shavonne Wright showed up nine hours early, hoping she’d receive help paying her rent.

When she arrived at the Beaver Farm Lane office at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, there were already 40 others in line.

For the first time in almost three years, the Housing Authority of Centre County on Wednesday morning began accepting new applications for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program. The county has the lowest rate of affordable housing in Pennsylvania, according to a March report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

“Getting this application is one step away from getting out of poverty. … It boosts you up,” said Wright, a Penn State student and single mother who makes a little more

than $9 an hour working at a McDonald’s restaurant and pays about $700 a month in rent. “This is the opportunity, for me, of a lifetime.”

Read more: 150 rush to get on Centre County Rental Assistance waiting list.

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