New rental housing coalition forms in Delaware County

Community leaders and elected officials are convening to discuss how the county can address the affordable housing crisis.

Jordan Casey is the director of HOPE, which started in July 2021 as an acknowledgement of the relationship between public health outcomes and housing access. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Leitzell)

Jordan Casey is the director of HOPE, which started in July 2021 as an acknowledgement of the relationship between public health outcomes and housing access. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Leitzell)

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A new rental housing coalition in Delaware County wants to break down the barriers of access for low- and moderate-income households.

Led by the Foundation for Delaware County’s Housing Opportunities Program for Equity (HOPE), the Delaware County Rental Housing Coalition is focused on bringing various stakeholders together to ensure that there are no gaps in communication in all sectors of housing.

With an affordable housing crisis impacting the entire country, Delco has been far from unspared, especially with a dense population and many housing units in disrepair.

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There are also two other groups getting started at the county level focused on unhoused people and for-sale housing. Jordan Casey, director of HOPE, said the coalition has its work cut out for them.

“Our shelter system is really in crisis mode. And by that I mean the need is far, far greater than our supply. And we have some overflow mechanisms in place, mostly hotels that the county was putting people in until there were openings in the shelter. But multiple townships have said you can no longer use her hotels, or the county has determined some of the hotels to be unsafe, either condition-wise or just location,” Casey said.

From rising rental costs to not-in-my-backyard attitudes towards the construction of more affordable housing units, Casey said there are increasing barriers for renters as well as current and potential first-time homeowners.

HOPE works with people to address any acute housing emergencies that they might have. Casey, an attorney by trade, said conversations regarding housing solutions are often siloed.

Casey wants people to imagine housing as the figurative heart of the community,  if it’s affordable and accessible to everyone — or “pumping” — education is stable, employment is more attainable, and a high level of public health is achievable.

“But once that heart starts to become erratic, your housing becomes erratic. It affects other parts of the body. Same analogy here. It affects your health, it affects your education, it affects your ability to be employed. So housing stability is so important for all these other sectors. And that’s kind of the argument that we’re bringing out to the communities, that this matters to everyone, despite where you may sit,” Casey said.

With help from state Senator Tim Kearney’s office in the form of funding, HOPE and key partners jumped at the opportunity to create a central point hub for solving housing issues.

Sara McCullough, Kearney’s chief of staff, said the senator has been interested in supporting a more coordinated entry of services for people experiencing homelessness.

“We continue to help people that come to the office, but we also want to work collaboratively with community partners to figure out how we can make system changes to improve process and increase affordable access for everyone,” McCullough said.

The Rental Housing Coalition hosted its first launch event at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit in March as proof of concept for local lawmakers that community leaders have a vested interest in solving this problem.

“One of the issues that has come up in the Rental Housing Coalition work is that because there is a shortage of housing, people are living in places that aren’t really sanctioned rental units. And so when there is an issue or a state of disrepair or a condition that’s not healthy, people are reluctant to bring that to the surface and ask for something better because they’re worried that they’re going to lose the housing they have,” McCullough said.

From elected officials to leaders in housing services, the attendees gathered for the first meeting and began to come up with a list of action items to get their plan in motion.

Rachel Pastan, the chair of the recently ended Swarthmore Task Force on Development and Affordability, said her biggest takeaways from the event were the personal stories people shared regarding housing in Delco.

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“Listening to people talk about the individual stories of people that they had worked with, who had been who had lost their housing. Listening to the sort of individual struggles of a couple of the people who are in the room about trying to figure out how to keep living in the community that they had lived in for 50 years and how difficult it was just because of sort of small circumstances. It just brought the issues home and focused them in a way that was really powerful,” Pastan said.

Casey said attendees zeroed in on eviction diversion programs, landlord-tenant education initiatives, and fleshing out what a central point of access for housing would ideally look like.

Ultimately, Caey wants more people with lived experiences at these events. The next meeting is scheduled for later this month.

Editor’s note: The Foundation for Delaware County provides support for WHYY.

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