Chester County's 2021 Housing Forum
Posted December 9, 2021
As the need for housing for everyone continues to be a priority for Chester County, the Chester County Planning Commission and Chester County Department of Community Development hosted the 2021 Housing Forum, "What's Our Type? Missing Middle typologies to meet housing needs" on Thursday, November 18, at the Government Services Center and via Zoom.
Commissioners Marian Moskowitz and Josh Maxwell provided opening remarks at the forum, noting the importance of housing here in Chester County.
"Chester County's comprehensive plan, Landscapes3, encourages housing in the right location, seeking to balance growth and preservation while embracing the unique characteristics that make our county a cherished place to live, work, and play," said Commissioner Moskowitz. "Chester County's existing housing stock is not currently meeting the changing needs caused by growth and changes in our demographics, which is the key reason why we're here today."
Adding to Commissioner Moskowitz's point, Commissioner Maxwell commented, "As home prices continue to rise, more Chester County families are becoming cost burdened by the amount of their paycheck that it takes to pay the rent or mortgage. Municipalities in every part of the county will need to address housing challenges and ensure vibrant, safe, inclusive, and healthy neighborhoods. Today's forum focuses on one tool — Missing Middle housing — which can help municipalities address these important challenges."
Brian O'Leary, the Chester County Planning Commission's Executive Director, also provided opening remarks, emphasizing the ways in which housing folds into just about every aspect of the Planning Commission's work program and goals.
Dolores Colligan, Acting Director for the Chester County Department of Community Development, provided examples of affordable housing developments throughout the county, including the new Pinckney Hill Commons (aka Melton Center Apartments) in West Chester, Red Clay Manor in the Borough of Kennett Square, Phoenixville Commons in the Borough of Phoenixville, and the Willows at Valley Run in Caln Township. Additionally, she talked about partnering with Habitat for Humanity on various homeownership activities, prevention efforts such as the Emergency Rent & Utility Assistance Program, and other county funding opportunities.
Libby Horwitz, the Chester County Planning Commission's Housing and Economic Planner, followed Colligan's presentation by discussing the reason behind the forum. According to recent Census data, Chester County is seeing an increase in population and changing demographics, leading to a need for more affordable and accessible housing. Horwitz explained the county's A+ Homes initiative, which states that housing should be attractive, affordably-priced, aging friendly, adaptable, and accessible. She also discussed Missing Middle housing and the types of homes this might include, such as duplexes, twins, cottage court/courtyards, and accessory dwelling units, among others.
"What we're really talking about is housing diversity and choices — we're not talking about not building those apartments or single-family homes, which is an integral part of our housing, we're just talking about increasing diversity and choices of housing so people can continue to live in Chester County as their needs and incomes might change," Horwitz explained.
Chris Patriarca, the Chester County Planning Commission's Senior Community Planner, next discussed how these types of housing can be achieved by highlighting three critical factors: market demand, construction costs, and zoning. His presentation included strategies to zone for missing middle housing, encourage infill development, provide financial resources, and address resident concerns.
Sarah Peck, of Progressive New Homes, followed with the ways in which Missing Middle housing can be accomplished successfully. She showcased three examples, including the Danley twin homes in Lower Merion Township, and the Arbor Mews Townhomes and the Arbor Heights Townhomes in Norristown. Peck also provided some statistics on housing affordability based on median income. "We can be affordably priced and meet a growing market need," she noted.
Adding to Peck's presentation, Nannette Whitset of South Media Neighbors United, provided her firsthand experience working alongside Peck and rallying her community to allow zoning for the Media Walk development in Nether Providence Township. "You have to trust the developer and believe in the project and just stay the course," Whitset added during the forum's question-and-answer session.
Various topics included in the forum can be found in the Planning Commission's newly released A+ Homes Planning Guides: Affordably-priced Planning Guide — Cost of Housing; and Aging-Friendly Planning Guide — Planning for an Aging Population.