Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Borough's Burden Part 1

As I opined in a Feb. 10 post in this space, I have come to the belief that the root of Pottstown's many problems revolve around the issues raised by the First Suburbs Project  housing, education and infrastructure, and of course jobs.

As I began writing this post, which deals almost exclusively with housing it became so lengthy that I realized no one would read it, so I have instead broken it up into more easily digestible installments.

The first of those begins below.

Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks

I suppose it really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

In regards to a recent debate going on here in Pottstown and cyberspace about  subsidized housing, I have found certain images which are very illustrative.

They come from a nifty new web site called "Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks."

Here is the link.

I suggest you go take a look for yourself as you can move around and zoom in much more than with the images I have posted below.

(I apologize for the poor quality of the images, they are simply a screen shot. When I contacted the folks at this site and asked them if there was a way to create a higher-quality image of a particular search, they said "not yet.")

The site takes information from the Census and the American Community Survey and color codes Census tracts by two important measures: income and rent.

So first take a look at average incomes in Pottstown borough.

As you can see, the redder and browner the color, the lower the median household income. This is, pardon the gallows humor, a whole new way to say that Pottstown is in the red.

Now pull back, and take a look at income in the region as a whole:

As you can see, older communities like Pottstown, Phoenixville, Reading, Royersford-Spring City and Norristown host a concentration of low-income households; islands of poverty quite literally surrounded by a sea of green.

(When public contracts are let and the "prevailing wage" is calculated based on the relative wealth of the "Philadelphia Area," which includes all the green above of Montgomery and Chester counties, you can see why its high, but is an additional burden in low-wage communities like Pottstown.)

Not surprisingly, the site's maps for average rents, found below, show a similar concentration of low rents in the same places as the low income colors above.

Here is the close-up of Pottstown:

In this case, the red colors show higher rents, in the $1,100 range, and the lighter colors the lower rents, in the $350 range. the lightest area includes Pottstown's public housing project, Bright Hope, where the rents are subsidized through the Montgomery County Housing Authority.

Not surprisingly, if you look at a page (below) from the study the Mosaic Community Land Trust presented to Pottstown Borough Council last year, you will see lots in the first ward, that match that tan area up there bounded by High Street, Hanover Street, Beech Street and Washington Street and how high the concentration of renters truly is.

Look closely and you will see several reasons rents there are so low, not least among them, the purple properties, which are rental properties with absentee landlords. The peach-colored lots are vacant and the brown ones are in foreclosure. The yellow lots are owner-occupied.

And here is a pull-back showing rents through the the entire region (make note of the light-colored areas in Pottstown, Reading, Spring  City and Royersford):

Needless to say, these things are not unrelated.

But while useful, these maps also clarify and confirm what most of us already know about Pottstown and the surrounding region.

They do not answer the important questions of how did it get this way and why?

Find out tomorrow in my next post.

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