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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

State Hospital Redevelopment Must Support Essential Workers

(From a recently published letter in the Times Herald of Norristown)

Nurses and other health care workers became heroes during the pandemic four years ago this month.

At the now largely shuttered Norristown State Hospital, patient enrollment peaked during the 1950s at around 4,000. Those life-sustaining workers, now in 2024, are at the center of a full-scale crisis of housing affordability. The positive news is that the redevelopment of the NSH site can play a role in adding affordable units that regular folks can pay for without wrecking their monthly budgets.

The current numbers are staggering. Around 74,000 households live above the poverty line but below the cost of living in Montgomery County, according to Emma Hertz, CEO of Health Spark. Those workers making between $45,000 and $75,000 — some of them nurses — are considered the “largest growing cohort of housing unstable families,” she recently said.

Let’s honor our essential and frontline workers by focusing on housing construction and rehabilitation that gives them a safe place to live — close to their job — that doesn’t break the bank. Is that too much to ask for?

Now that 68 acres are being redeveloped, it should be done with intention and with the common good at its center. Our vision for the redevelopment recognizes that Norristown Council strongly desires tax “rateables” and economic development. We believe a balanced approach includes the following:

Workforce/affordable housing options at below market-rate. The developer, PRDC, should commit to setting aside a portion, say 10 percent, of the over 700 proposed units at below market rates. In addition to helping local families, the move will set an example in the county for future developments of this scale. The 2009 Norristown Comprehensive Plan (the most recent edition) explains how 56 percent of the town’s residents are of low and moderate income, which has “made the dream of homeownership or the ability to ‘trade up’ to a larger home more difficult for most Norristonians.” Rising rents and evictions depict an additional squeeze.

Pedestrian-friendly with a focus on sustainability. We are a bit skeptical about the commercial components of this plan, given the high vacancy rates in office and warehouse space throughout Montco. However, we do support a full-service grocery store within the municipal limits. PRDC’s mixed-use proposal should be ambitious about native tree planting (another goal of the 2009 comprehensive plan). It should be uncompromising in fostering connections to recreation, including safe options for biking and walking to reduce reliance on vehicles. Named the Preserve at Stony Creek, this development would move a lot of dirt and create impacts. The actual Stony Creek should be safeguarded as a natural resource (yup, mentioned in the 2009 comp plan).

Norristown Farm Park. Future NSH development should be sensitive to the potential impacts to this popular county recreational resource. Commercial uses should be oriented away from the park as much as possible.

As former Councilor Mila Hayes and columnist Cheryl Rodgers both said, the public should be heard on the redevelopment of NSH. We will take that one step further: Show your residents that you are willing to change your mind and adapt to what the public is asking for.


Mike Hays, Montco 30% Project

Tim Kozak, Former Norristown Planning Commissioner member 

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1 Comment

Mar 26

Very well presented. Please keep in mind when the former Logan Square was to be developed into a Studio Center it was thought a supermarket would be a good fit. I believe the market data did not support a grocery due to the two store in East Norriton. Presently, Norristown has two operating grocery store/supermarkets. One in the lowest income section at Oak and DeKalb Streets and another on 202 South Markley St. They serve the minority and ethnic populations. Remember the Master Appraisal did the data analysis on what the NSH could successfully support and sustain tax revenue. Housing. Your words say it best.

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