Montgomery County Homes For All - A Housing Solutions Summit


A housing affordability summit brought together nearly 150 local community leaders, advocates, and developers on April 29th, 2024 at Normandy Farms in Blue Bell. Emceed by Montgomery County Commissioner Chair Jamila Winder, the event aimed to brainstorm ways to find solutions to a complex issue.

As highlighted in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Like many in-demand areas, Montgomery County is facing a rising affordability crisis. This year, officials counted 435 people living on the street, the most in a decade aside from 2022, when the county’s only year-round shelter closed.

At a meeting in Blue Bell on Monday, Jamila Winder, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, challenged the gathering of municipal officials, developers, and nonprofits leaders to support new housing for low-income people even in the face of hyperlocal opposition. 

She said that this would be the top item on her policy agenda and that her fellow commissioners were on board.

Winder said that municipalities with higher poverty rates such as Norristown, where the recently shuttered shelter was located, and Pottstown have long been at the forefront of homelessness in this affluent county. But that doesn’t mean that they alone should provide help for those struggling with housing costs.

Those two towns “have been sharing the burden of dealing with this homeless crisis for a very long time,” Winder said in an interview. “We’re looking to have a diversity of options in different corners and parts of the county to be able to solve that.”

Winder said she knows the idea of adding more affordable housing and temporary shelters is controversial in many communities, and that’s why local officials need to lead.

“That’s where cooperation with municipalities comes into play because there is local resistance,” Winder said.

Campaigns against lower-income housing can become vitriolic. Last year, opponents of a 60-unit affordable-housing complex in one Montgomery County town argued that supporters of the idea were trying to “turn Upper Gwynedd into Philly.” Also in 2023, the then-head of Norristown’s council threatened to bus homeless residents out of town.

In general, Philadelphia’s suburbs have been approving less new housing in recent years, as established residents have pushed back against new construction, developable land has become scarcer, and regulations make it difficult to add density to existing communities.

There is a statewide, bipartisan effort to overrule what are seen as overly stringent local land use regulations.

Winder says the county commissioners can influence local zoning rules but cannot change them. She says the commissioners are crafting a list of towns to talk with about how to help ease the housing crisis. She cited policies such as inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to provide a handful of affordable units when building market-rate projects.

She also highlighted $10 million the county is contributing to seven lower-income housing developments. Five of those projects are exclusively for seniors in such towns as Norristown and Ardmore. The funds will also go toward housing for homeless youth in King of Prussia. The 60-unit building in Upper Gwynedd that proved so controversial is the only county-backed building that would be open to general occupancy.

But the difficulties facing a campaign for more affordable housing and homeless services throughout the country were illustrated on the same day as Winder’s Blue Bell conference.

On Monday, Justin Heinze of Patch reported that officials in Lower Providence “suspended” consideration of a 60-bed transitional facility in the face of pushback from community groups.

“We have places where we know the need is greater, and Lower Providence is the most definitive, the closest opportunity for us to get to have that shelter,” Winder said. “But they are facing a lot of resistance.”