Thursday, March 12, 2015

Housing Disappointment

Turn-out at a public input session on Montgomery County's plan for the next five years of low-income housing investment was sparse compared to last month's meeting.

So as it turns out, the plan the federal government requires Montgomery County to put together every five years to qualify for three streams of revenue will not do much more to keep low-income housing 
from being concentrated in Pottstown than is already being done.

Tuesday evening, the interim director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, Carolyn K. Mayinja, met with a handful of Pottstown residents who had hung with the process long enough to get to the public input portion.

Every five years, the county has to put together a large five-year plan in order to receive money from the federal government under three programs meant to be directed at low-income ares -- Community Development Block Grants, the HOME Program and Emergency Solutions grants.

Among the requirements the federal government has is that these programs not be used to concentrate low-income housing and poverty in specific areas of the county -- a situation which led to a long-simmering lawsuit with Westchester County, N.Y. (My old stomping grounds.)

On Feb. 24, the first of two public input sessions was held at Montgomery County Community College's West Campus in Pottstown and attracted nearly 50 people -- which the staff said was the largest they had ever seen and was probably due to "that newspaper article."

But by the March 10, public input session, the turn-out had dwindled to about seven (if you include the newspaper reporter there, and they don't really count.)

And in terms of the primary question: What can be done to de-concentrate low-income housing from areas like Pottstown and Norristown, which is one of the plan's set goals? The answer is not much.

Or at least not more than is being done now.

Mayinja explained that the department has no control over housing vouchers (Section 8) and has funded low-income housing projects in places other than Pottstown, including Limerick, Lansdale and Lower Merion.

But the department does not initiate projects, it can only provide support for the projects brought by developers or municipalities.

When those projects do come, and they receive more applications than they have money to fund, extra points are given to the applications that are outside areas where low-income housing is concentrated.

Among the few speakers there Tuesday was Steve Kambic, the executive director of Petra Community Housing. He said he has tried for years to establish a low-income housing project along the county's bus routes, and close to shopping, but zoning laws and profit motive have made it nearly impossible.

So, on that cheerful note, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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