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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Change for the Better

The past three months since the launch of The Montco 30% Project have been inspiring. Meeting with local residents, elected officials, and advocates has offered insights into what change could look like on the housing front.

As we prepare for Saturday's rally -- just 6 days away -- I wanted to share an op-ed I published on the Norristown Patch about a few of the policy prescriptions you will hear about at our 4/29 rally at the courthouse.

Eviction and housing instability often live in the shadows, rarely causing a public scene. These health scourges disrupt education and work, contribute to mental illness, and exacerbate chronic stress. Montgomery County, along with countless other communities across the Commonwealth, face a crisis of housing affordability.

A combination of inflation, construction slowdowns, stagnant wages, and the end of pandemic housing assistance have arrived on our collective doorstep. Evictions rise when people cannot afford to remain housed. For the week ending April 9, there were 1,413 evictions across Pennsylvania, according to the Eviction Lab. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the total is 234,414.

What can be done?

* Rent control, statewide – House Bill 506, whose main sponsor is Rep. Nancy Guenst, would limit rent increases across Pennsylvania. If approved, it would limit annual rental increases on apartments and other residential units to 5% percent, plus inflation (up to a maximum of 10%). New construction would be exempted.

* Budget priorities – Budgets are statements of our values. Now that pandemic funds have dried up, the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners should generously fund the Epic legal program, which offers free legal counseling to those facing eviction. Furthermore, the county should invest in a land bank to set aside buildings for future development as below-market units. Municipalities could be incentivized to contribute vacant, government-owned buildings to this bank.

* YIMBY – Many of us have attended public meetings where a vocal handful of residents halted a project or proposal. It is time for people of good conscience to stand up, publicly, and support policies that drive down the cost of housing for ALL income levels in Montgomery County. Just say, “Yes in My Backyard” to Habitat for Humanity developments, multi-family duplexes, and apartment complexes. Our children and workforce depend on it.

* Zoning changes – The Municipalities Planning Code was last updated more than 10 years ago. It should require that townships and boroughs build for all income levels, not just mixed development types. The MPC should also allow for denser development, wherever appropriate.

* Raise the Wage – Pennsylvania ought to join all its neighboring states in raising the minimum wage for our workers beyond the paltry federal minimum of $7.25 per hour – to $15.

Like many issues in the public square, tackling housing affordability can seem too daunting and complex to make a difference. Yet the work begins, just like countless other struggles throughout our history, with one step forward when people stand together and demand change for the betterment of us all. I hope to see you on April 29, from 1 to 2 p.m., on the Montgomery County Courthouse steps.

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