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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Commissioner Candidates Discuss Housing & Homelessness

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

On May 16, Democratic voters in Montgomery County will head to the polls for a Primary Election to select two candidates from a field of five. On the Republican side, three candidates are on the ballot.

All five Democrats – Tanya Bamford, Kimberly Koch, Neil Makhija, Noah Marlier, and Jamila Winder – attended a Wednesday night forum in Pottstown, organized by local Democratic committee groups to better inform primary voters. The candidates fielded a wide array of questions, including one about homelessness and housing.

Commissioner Jamila Winder makes a point.

Commissioner Jamila Winder, who was appointed to the board in January and is running for a four-year term, noted the recent creation of a county Homelessness Task Force that will look to find creative solutions to help people. The homelessness crisis should not be left “on the shoulders” of Pottstown and Norristown as it has been, Winder said. Local elected officials from other, wealthier municipalities may say that they want to help, yet “A lot of them are saying ‘no,’” she said.

Running mate and English teacher Kimberly Koch echoed those thoughts, saying it is imperative for commissioners to encourage elected municipal leaders to “share the load and participate in the process.” Koch, who is also a Whitpain Township supervisor, recalled asking the developer of an apartment complex how many units would be set aside as affordable housing. Often the answer is none.

Supervisor Koch addresses the audience at TRAAC in Pottstown.

Affordable housing and homelessness are the most important issues in this race, Prothonotary Noah Marlier said. He is also running for the open commissioner seat and highlighted his accomplishments during his three years serving in county government, including helping 5-10 people per week appeal their eviction during the pandemic – when courts were not accessible. Marlier also wants to expand a public defender program called Epic that helps people facing an eviction gain competent representation in court.

Marlier noted the challenges faced by the estimated 40,0000 people in the county who are rent-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

Prothonotary Noah Marlier cited his experience with housing issues.

During a point-in-time homelessness count this past winter, volunteers counted 329 people without indoor shelter. Tanya Bamford, a Montgomery Township Supervisor, said this number is “far too many in such a wealthy area.” If elected, she would work with the task force to identify areas for improvement.

Neil Makhija, of Lower Merion, spoke about his track record on helping those in need.

In his response, Makhija noted the multiple reasons why people face housing insecurity, including mental health issues and the high cost of rent. Finding beds for those without shelter should be the first priority, he said, along with implementing a multi-prong approach called “Housing First.” Makhija also cited his involvement with Family Promise, as well as his experience with a legal services clinic during his time as a law student.

Supervisor Bamford addresses the packed room of Democrats.

None of the five candidates challenged another’s track record or positions, although the moderator would have allowed for a 30-second response. The field talked about the need to rally behind the winners and continue the work of former Commissioner Val Arkoosh and Commissioner Ken Lawrence, who is not seeking re-election .

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.

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