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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

From Upper Gwynedd to Lower Pottsgrove, More Housing for Working Families is Needed

Almost no one likes a long commute to work.

Employers, workers, legislators, and developers may have found near consensus on this kitchen table point in an otherwise contentious conversation surrounding affordable/ “workforce” housing.

At Paoli Hospital and the Devereux Foundation in Chester County, for example, both employers share the monumental challenge of finding enough workers who can afford to live close to their jobs, Greg Newell said recently at the Home Builders Association legislative breakfast in King of Prussia.

What can contribute to a solution?

“It’s the builders, developers, and the Legislature,” said Newell, local President of HBA.

Chris Canavan, president of WB Homes and a Lower Salford Supervisor, spoke at the breakfast.

One such builder, the Walters Group, has received attention for its proposal to build 60 units of affordable housing in Upper Gwynedd Township near the North Wales SEPTA train station. The community’s reaction – for and against – was profiled in a recent article by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mike Hays, of the Montco 30% Project, emphasized the importance of challenging exclusionary local zoning during a recent rally in Norristown.

In August, the Upper Gwynedd Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve an amendment that would allow Walters Group to put forth a land development plan. Future hearings and votes will be required.

While the region has been under-building since the 2008 recession, Canavan of WB Homes said: "New home construction is not the (only) solution to housing affordability."

There is much work to be done to reign in runaway housing costs. Rep. Steve Malagari (D-53rd) noted at the builders’ breakfast that rents in the Lansdale area are now “more expensive than my mortgage.”

"This problem is not going away anytime soon," he added.

In fact, about half of renters in Montgomery County spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a county report. Families desire greater opportunities for their children in school districts with stellar reputations, such as Lower Merion, Spring-Ford, and North Penn (to name just a few).

That point is personal for Montgomery County Commissioner Jamila Winder, who moved to East Norriton in the early 1980s with her brother, Randy, when their mother was seeking better opportunities for her young children. Speaking at a fundraising dinner over the weekend for Wings of Victory, Winder noted that many people can fall into homelessness without strong support systems – something she was fortunate to have growing up.

“We need more affordable housing throughout the county,” she said.

Commissioner Jamila Winder addressed the crowd at the 2023 Sleep Out, an event to raise awareness and funds to address homelessness.

While acknowledging some progress, including the building of new affordable housing, increasing first-time homebuyer assistance, and funding eviction prevention, much more work needs to be done, she added.

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