SHAMOKIN — A federal official praised Shamokin and Northumberland County on Friday for their efforts in fighting blight and seeing progress with the federal opportunity zones.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Joe DeFelice stopped briefly in the city to talk to city, county and state officials about HUD-assisted housing, community development projects and the designated Opportunity Zone in Shamokin. He also stopped in Union County prior to Shamokin.
"I was expecting to see more blight when I came into Shamokin, and I didn't see that," said DeFelice. "That's a testament to the redevelopment authority and some of the work they've been doing over the years."
Instead, DeFelice said, he saw a "thriving community" that needs a little bit of a boost.
Ed Christiano, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Northumberland County, told DeFelice that the county uses a land bank and conservatorship, the practice of acquiring properties for future development. Shamokin has been part of the county's initiative.
"They're ahead of the curve than so many other communities," DeFelice said.
The stop was part of a three-day tour across Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier in 13 counties this week. Since his appointment in 2017, DeFelice has toured in 170 counties to see HUD’s impact on communities in the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.
Portions of Shamokin have been designated Qualified Opportunity Zones by the state Department of Conservation and Economic Development and the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf. This allows for tax breaks for investments in low-to-moderate-income communities.
In Shamokin, the zone follows the city's northernmost border with Coal Township. It runs roughly from North 1st Street in the West to Market, North Rock and Dubarry streets in the east and from West Chestnut, Water and East Sunbury streets in the south to East Kase, James, East Packer and East Dewart streets in the north.
Mayor John Brown took the opportunity to explain that the opportunity zone is overlapped by a newly established flood zone that goes into effect in the new year, which he said will make business owners hesitant about relocating onto Independence Street.
"That threw me off," said DeFelice. "I had not expected that and to be honest, I don't have an answer to that. We're going to go back and find out why that was, and what we can do to remedy that."
Brown said making the connections was "impressive."
Also, to have DeFelice compliment them, Brown said he was pleased.