Montco releases plans for pandemic recovery funds, with a focus on affordable housing

Montgomery County will collect community feedback before recovery act plans are finalized by County commissioners in August.

Norristown, Pa. in Montgomery County. (Wikimedia Commons)

Norristown, Pa. in Montgomery County. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Montgomery County’s plans for its $161.4 million in pandemic recovery funds include 325 affordable housing units, new community facilities in underserved communities, $18.1 million for behavioral health services, and $8.2 million for workforce development, the County Recovery Office announced Tuesday.

The Recovery Office has released a Draft Recovery Plan with recommendations for funding 110 projects, chosen from 426 project submissions after a 10-month community engagement process.

But the community’s role in the funding allocation process isn’t over — county residents will be able to provide feedback on the plan, online or during virtual and in-person town halls, between July 18 and July 29.

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Emma Hertz, strategy director for the Recovery Office, said the office conducted town halls and surveys, analyzed community data, and partnered with local organizations, to distribute funding “in an equitable and impactful way, particularly for communities hardest hit by the pandemic, as well as those that have historically been underserved by government services.”

Hertz said the July town halls are part of the county’s commitment to a transparent and a community-oriented process that holds its leaders accountable.

“To say, ‘This is how the draft funding plan currently looks, does it match your expectations?’ Part of this is around creating dialogue with the community and building more trusting relationships with communities,” Hertz said.

According to the Recovery Office, comments will be taken into consideration as it prepares a final plan to be approved by the Board of Commissioners by August 18.

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A significant chunk of the funds – $32.4 million – is planned for affordable housing projects, which advocates say are much-needed in Montgomery County, after a ripple of local shelters closed and the need for affordable housing continues to rise across the Philadelphia suburbs.

The Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC), Montgomery County’s only 24/7 emergency housing service for single adults, closed on June 30. Al’s Heartwarming Center, the only shelter in the Pottstown area for single adults, closed on May 1.

And the number of unhoused people in Montgomery County has risen by at least 118% from 2021 to 2022, according to the county’s 2022 Point-in-Time count. The PIC identified 568 individuals sleeping in one of the county’s emergency shelters (including hotel rooms paid for with public funding), transitional housing projects, or outdoors.

Now, the Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community development, in partnership with Your Way Home, is slated to receive $7 million. Kayleigh Silver, administrator for Your Way Home, said the Recovery Office’s plans have “hit all three best practice tactics to combat this very large issue.”

The plans include building 325 new affordable housing units, $5.5 million for the Housing Opportunities Fund, (which uses unused land, blighted or condemned properties, and hotels for sale, to build or rehab into affordable rental housing), $500,000 expansion of the down payment assistance program for first time homebuyers, and $5.8 million to support renovation of existing affordable units.

The plans also include $6.8 million for short-term housing for single adults experiencing homelessness, including relocation costs for  previous CHOC residents. According to Silver, about 20 of those residents are currently living in a hotel.

Silver said she commends the Recovery Office’s commitment to listening to community needs, and following through.

“It was the community itself sharing their stories around the struggle of housing affordability, paying rent, paying mortgage evictions, lack of affordable housing options if someone were to lose housing,” said Silver.

“And then this is the direct response to that. So I’m just very, very appreciative …  I hope that process sets a shining example for all government processes and funding.”

Norristown, where 19 percent of residents live below the poverty line, is slated to receive $7 million to build and restore community facilities.

Angelique Hinton, president of the Norristown NAACP, helped put together a project proposal for the community, and said she hopes the money will fund new recreational spaces for kids, like baseball and football fields. Hinton would also like to see more programming for youth in the Norristown library and other community spaces, like mentorship and job training.

Hinton said she hopes for long-term, sustainable solutions “that really do create a space of racial equity and justice for these communities that have been oppressed for so long.” 

The George Washington Carver Community Center in Norristown is hosting a town hall on July 25 to collect community feedback on future plans for the funds.

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