Rally today to Rethink Homelessness

RETHINK HOMELESSNESS

Community Awareness Event

 Today, November 30th

Noon-1pm

Smith Family Plaza

100 East High Street, Pottstown, PA

Special thanks to Mercer’s Collision Center and Ice House Steaks & Pizza for providing sandwiches and

Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation for providing bottled water for today’s event.

Partnering to improve health, social and environmental conditions.

 Sponsored by

TriCounty Community Network

260 High Street, Pottstown, PA  19464

610-705-3301
www.TCNetwork.org

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Free financial workshops offered in Pottstown

FREE WORKSHOPS OFFERED IN POTTSTOWN TO UNDERSTAND CREDIT, LEARN MONEY MANAGEMENT AND HOME BUYING BASICS
 
It’s back to school time for the kids and there has never been a better time for you to learn how to handle money and credit.  Learn ways to reduce your debts. Learn how to improve your credit scores. Take charge of your finances. Learn what they never covered in high school! 
 
Genesis Housing Corporation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit community development corporation, will hold three FREE workshops on credit & credit repair, money management and home buying process on September 20th, September 27th and October 4th  from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the new PDIDA Offices, 17 North Hanover Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. The workshops are free thanks to the support of Susquehanna Bank but seating is limited. Registration is available on-line at www.genesishousing.org.
 
The workshops are designed to help to:
 
·         Understand Credit — Information on credit scores, improving your scores, re-establishing credit, dealing with debt.  Workshop participants can obtain a free credit report with scores (Tuesday, September 20, 2011).
 
·         Money Management – Information on preparing realistic budgets that are more than just monthly bills, prioritizing spending in tough times and understanding how current spending impacts future financial options (Tuesday, September 27, 2011).
 
·         Home Buying Basics — Information the home buying process — finding a realtor, home inspections, Agreements of Sale, mortgages and first-time homebuyer grant programs (Tuesday, October 4, 2011).
 
Nikki Holcroft, an award winning and certified housing counselor, will teach the workshops. Ms. Holcroft has more than twenty-five years experience working as a housing counselor, mortgage banker and community lender. Ms. Holcroft has worked with Genesis Housing Corporation since 2001 and teaches monthly classes on credit, money management and the home buying process. Ms. Holcroft also provides individual housing counseling sessions to help clients achieve their financial goals.  Ms. Holcroft has worked with families to restructure their mortgages, avoid foreclosures and reduce their debts.
 
Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling Genesis Housing Corporation at 610-275-4357 or online at www.genesishousing.org.
 
Genesis Housing Corporation’s housing counseling programs provide free classes and individual counseling helping over 4,800 clients. Monthly classes focus on topics not taught in regular school including understanding credit, credit repair, money management, saving plans, grant programs and understanding the home buying process including selecting a realtor and finding the best mortgage.
 
Since 1994, Genesis Housing Corporation has served Montgomery County as a 501(c)(3) non-profit community development corporation and is dedicated to the development of affordable housing and educating consumers on housing and financial issues.  Genesis Housing Corporation has been certified as a FannieMae Counseling Agency and is approved by PA Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for housing counseling. Genesis Housing Corporation is also an approved agency for many programs including the Montgomery County First-time Home Buyers Program and the Norristown First-time Home Buyers Program.  In addition, Genesis Housing Corporation has developed affordable housing by rehabilitating vacant homes and by building new homes for lower income homebuyers. Genesis Housing Corporation also renovates existing owner-occupied homes for eligible lower income families. Affordable renovated homes are currently available in Pottstown.
For more information on Genesis Housing Corporation programs, please call 610-275-4357 or visit our web site at www.genesishousing.org.
 
The workshops are sponsored by Susquehanna Bank and offered in conjunction with Genesis Housing Corporation. Genesis Housing Corporation is not affiliated with Susquehanna Bank.

MOSAIC Community Land Trust & Gallery on High put out call to artists

MOSAIC, The Pottstown Community Land Trust and The Gallery on High are proud to announce an open call to artists for a juried logo design competition and exhibit.  The winning design will be selected as the logo for The Pottstown Community Land Trust, and $500 will be awarded to the artist. Submissions may be in 2D or 3D in any media; all submissions must include a mosaic-styled image and must be original to the artist submitting.

Pottstown is in the midst of revitalization. Its history is tied to the river, the steel industry, Mrs. Smith’s Pies and manufacturing. Charming 18th & 19th century architecture lines its streets. The ARTS and INNOVATION are key to the sustainability of Pottstown’s renaissance. Artists’ designs should bring out the many meanings of “mosaic” for Pottstown:

  • bringing together a multi-faceted, multi-hued community;
  • putting broken shards together to create a thing of beauty;
  • and recognizing the rough-around-the-edges nature ofPottstown’s past.

In exchange for the prize of $500 and recognition in a press release, the winning artist will relinquish his/her rights to the chosen image to the Pottstown Community Land Trust for them to use as their logo in their branding and marketing efforts. The show will be exhibited the week of September 2, 2011, and the winner will be announced on September 7 at a reception being held from 7-9PM. Other important dates, deadlines and entry forms are shown below.

After the announcement of the winner, The Gallery on High will invite the public to vote on their favorite “Mosaic” image. The “People’s Favorite” will be announced at Pottstown’s OPEN DOORS EVENT on September 10 at 2PM at the Gallery on High.

MOSAIC, The Pottstown Community Land Trust is a local non-profit corporation dedicated to increasing affordable homeownership opportunities inPottstown, developing a community garden at 423 Chestnut Street, and empowering residents to participate in the improvement of their own neighborhoods. Collaboration is the key to their efforts to create long-lasting change, and they are already partnering with local businesses, volunteers, Pottstown School District, Pottstown Borough and other community organizations, such as The Gallery and Genesis Housing Corporation. For the past six months, MOSAIC has been working with a nationally-recognized expert in community land trusts, thanks to a grant from National Penn Bank. For more information, check out their website: PottstownCLT.wordpress.com

Important info for MOSAIC artists

Registration Form

Inventory Sheet

Drop off of art/entries:  Monday, August 29 from 11 AM-1 PM and from 6-8 PM

Exhibit dates: September 2 – 10 at The Gallery on High

Reception:  Wednesday, September 7 from 7-9 PM

Pick-up of art:  Monday, September 12 from 6-7:30 PM or Tuesday September 13 from 11 AM-1 PM

School Board votes to transfer property for community garden

Last night, in a unanimous decision, the Pottstown School Board voted to transfer a vacant lot at 423 Chestnut Street to the MOSAIC Community Land Trust (CLT). Read about it here.

Old Chestnut Street Park

A community land trust is a proven model for promoting affordable homeownership, stabilizing neighborhoods and improving local economies. The community garden at 423 Chestnut will be its first project.

Pottstown’s CLT is a project of the Preservation Pottstown organization founded nearly 30 years ago. The group recently adopted the name MOSAIC Community Land Trust because a mosaic is the coming together of many different, colorful pieces – even some that are a bit rough around the edges! – to create a thing of beauty. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming call for artists to create a mosaic logo for the CLT, in conjunction with The Gallery School!)

The new board of trustees now at the helm of Preservation Pottstown/MOSAIC, with the support of a grant from National Penn Bank (thank you, Sharon McMichael!), have been working with a nationally-known CLT expert, Van Temple, to get its by-laws and operations in order so that it can own and manage projects like the community garden and, eventually, rehab and sell homes to low- and moderate-income working folks.

The School District’s decision is a huge milestone for what it represents: a new wave of partnership and collaboration on a progressive, healthy, sustainable community initiative. This effort has been led by the indomitable spirit of Katy Jackson on behalf of MOSAIC and supported and nurtured by many others, including Dr. Reed Lindley, Stephen Kalis, Andrew Monastra, Jason Bobst, Judy Memberg & Genesis Housing and Al Gryga of DePallo Design & Planning.

While it will be too late to get veggies in the ground for this summer, a team of volunteers and professionals are lined up to begin cleaning up and preparing the lot, perhaps for some fall harvesting, but certainly for next spring. I apologize in advance if I miss anyone in the list that follows – let me know and I’ll get additional names in here! Some of those who have committed to making this happen include: Master Gardeners from Penn State; Shawn Conroy & Lowe’s employees, Alan Jensen-Sellers, Master Arborist with Davey Tree Experts; Eric Schmidt of Colonial Gardens, Mary-Beth Lydon, Chris Huff, Teri Jensen-Sellers, McDonald’s and Giant for refreshments for volunteers, and many, many more.

Teaching children & adults…  meeting neighbors… enjoying the outdoors… getting your hands dirty…  the MOSAIC garden committee is always looking to grow its community. For more information, visit MOSAIC Community Land Trust’s website here.

Two important community meetings tonight

Two meetings tonight will provide key information on various aspects of revitalization and serve as proof of the new collaborative spirit taking hold in Pottstown.

#1  For anyone interested in the status of the Pottstown Area Industrial Development corporation (PAID), the entity responsible for economic development in the Borough, there will be a meeting to announce their new board members this evening at 6 pm at the library on the The Hill School campus. The reconstituted PAID board is an outgrowth of a recommendation by the Urban Land Institute in a 2009 report for the Borough to create a single entity for redevelopment and revitalization. See The Mercury’s article here.

#2 If you want to know more about what’s happening in the Washington Street corridor and how you can get involved, Genesis Housing is holding a meeting called “Let’s Talk” at 7 pm tonight at the Ricketts Center, where you can learn about new projects and help design a community mural. The Ricketts Center is at  640 Beech Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. Community members will be asked for their ideas for a new mural at the Chestnut Street Park and to help to set priorities and develop future projects. An update on Washington Street neighborhood projects,  including the new community garden and the Science in the Park event, will be discussed.  Community concerns about this area and other sections of the Pottstown will be explored with the hope of setting priorities for future projects.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the proposed mural in the Washington St. neighborhood will speak volumes on the tenacity and determination driving the revitalization of Pottstown.  Genesis Housing Corporation, The Gallery on High and Citizens for Pottstown’s Revitalization are in collaboration to develop a mural at the park located at Washington and Chestnut Streets.  The artistic coordinators, Cathy Paretti and Erika Hornburg-Cooper of the Gallery on High have selected Robert Louis Williams, an accomplished local artist to design and create the proposed park mural.  Let’s talk about the different types of murals and what this mural should look like – this is the chance for your input!

Judith Memberg, Executive Director of Genesis Housing Corporation, will provide an update on their Washington Street neighborhood housing developments including the rehabilitation of vacant properties for new home buyers and the homeowner rehab programs.  Information about the Pottstown Homeowner Rehab Program will be provided.

Genesis Housing Corporation serves Montgomery County as a non-profit community development organization and is dedicated to the development of affordable housing and to the education of consumers on housing and financial issues.  For more information, visit their website at www.genesishousing.org or call 610-275-4357.

Joint School Board & Borough Council Meeting this Monday

This Monday, Dec. 20th, there will be a joint School Board & Borough Council Meeting at 7:30pm at the Pottstown Middle School in the 2nd floor LGI room.

The agenda will include an update to the community on the PAID partnership, a presentation about a Community Land Trust for Pottstown, and tax assessments. I will be part of the group that is doing the Community Land Trust presentation.

A community land trust (CLT) is a nonprofit model that offers flexibility for engaging in housing, neighborhood stabilization and economic development activities that are appropriate for a particular area. A few notable features of CLTs are:

  • setting & implementing goals with community input
  • having CLT homeowners & other community reps. on its board
  • undertaking an active acquisition program
  • selling buildings at affordable prices while the CLT retains ownership of the land beneath the buildings
  • being stewards of the land and neighborhoods
  • increasing homeownership
  • preventing foreclosures

While most CLTs have as their main goal the creation of permanently affordable, owner-occupied housing in places where housing prices are high or escalating, a CLT for Pottstown would undertake a broader range of activities such as community gardens and economic development initiatives to help bring back market-rate activity.

With input from the community,  a CLT for Pottstown would undertake activities in a targeted way to slow the negative fiscal spiral and coax the market back. Many aspects of this approach have been recommended in study after study.

I’m certainly looking forward to carrying on this conversation & to hear questions and observations from the larger community about how this could work. Hope you can make it Monday night!

Added after original post:

Here’s a link to the Pottstown CLT website.

It’s at www.PottstownCLT.wordpress.com.

It’s a work-in-progress. A PowerPoint presentation will be posted there after the Monday meeting.

 

Inequitable distribution of housing vouchers in Montgomery County

The debate about how to best house the less fortunate has many facets and many layers. Below is my response posted earlier today to an opinion piece at The Mercury, written by Elizabeth G. Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. My comments were posted under the name “Number5.”

“This is a long-winded version of brussell’s last paragraph!

The whole point of the First Suburbs project is to bring attention to the fiscal & underlying policy inequities among various municipalities that exist side-by-side or within close proximity to each other in a region. While I agree with Ms. Hersh in many respects, I fear that her defense of the voucher program loses sight of this very basic premise.

There are many good purposes served by the Housing Choice Voucher Program. I am a staunch supporter of its compassionate intent and believe we must be vigilant against negative stereotyping of individuals. But, like many other public programs & policies, if the voucher program is implemented inequitably, much of its good can be undone or result in unintended consequences to communities.

If I am reading Ms. Hersh’s numbers correctly, 4% of all of Montgomery County’s rental units have tenants who are voucher holders, and 12-15% of all of Pottstown’s and Norristown’s rental units have tenants who are voucher holders. Therefore, Pottstown and Norristown have 3-4 times the CONCENTRATION of voucher holders than the county as a whole. The county’s low-income residents ARE concentrated in the county’s urban areas. That is not a “negative stereotype.” That is reality, and it is unacceptable public policy. Not only is it not good for a community’s fiscal health, it is not good for the low-income people themselves, particularly the children, who benefit from being educated among a socio-economic diversity of peers. In what ways do voucher holders truly have a CHOICE to live in a suburban community?

I would also be curious to know how the “nearly half” of elderly/disabled voucher holders are distributed geographically throughout the county. Are they in the urban and suburban areas in roughly equal concentrations?

The phrase, “yes, making sure that all communities bear an equal responsibility for helping our less fortunate neighbors” is added in the last paragraph almost as an afterthought, when that is actually one of the main premises of the First Suburbs project. I have nothing but respect for Ms. Hersh and other affordable housing advocates and providers for their commitment and passion, but summary statistics can be misleading. Critical analysis will help us find more equitable AND compassionate solutions.

Sue Repko
Positively!Pottstown ”

(First Suburbs link added here.)

Pottstown 101: Required Reading

I promised to put up links to as many reports & studies as I could find, and here they are. I’m sure other people may have more (or less) required reading in order to get up to speed on Pottstown planning issues. My current list is below.

I made a huge score when I found three studies I knew about, but hadn’t seen before, at the Pottstown Citizens for Responsible Government website – items f, j and k, below. Thank you to PCRG for posting.

WordPress has been acting funny today… The “preview” feature isn’t working now. I hope this post comes out okay…

**Added 09/13/2012**

PottstownHAP_FINAL_July2011 – Borough of Pottstown Heritage Action Plan – 2011

a. Pottstown Economic Development Strategic Plan – 2008
b. ULI report – 2009
c. Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Comprehensive Plan – 2005
d. 422 Corridor Master Plan – 2010 (Pottstown Borough-specific brochure)
e. Washington Street Action Plan – 2010
f. Core District Redevelopment Plan – 2003
g. Land Use (multiple sections to choose from) & Zoning Ordinance
h. Health & Wellness Foundation 2008 Needs Assessment Report – 2009
i. Open Space Plan – 2006 (scroll down to Pottstown link)
j. Western Riverfront District Redevelopment Plan – 2002
k. Reconnections: Reconnecting the People of North Coventry Township & Pottstown Borough with Each Other & Their Schuylkill River Heritage – 2004
l. Fire Services Assessment – 2009

A Call to Action – No. 1

This post and the one that will follow today are ostensibly the last in the planning series I started on August 5th. Outside of the blogosphere, though, in real life, these posts are calls to action. Not an end, but a beginning.

Because last night’s Council meeting is in the news and on everyone’s minds, I feel I have to weigh in. I am not going to comment on the particulars of the housing development and the rental ordinance, which are no small matters. Instead, I will point you to a previous blog post about process in the public sphere. Any public body is well-served by doing the bulk of its work in the public eye and with adequate and clear time – in advance – for input from any interested party.

What I would like to do now is highlight what I have heard/read about last night’s meeting that shows positive initiative being taken on several fronts:

– If the process continues as planned, the economic development director position for the Pottstown Partnership could be advertised in November.

– As a result of the First Suburbs initiative Pottstown, Norristown and Coatesville are talking about Section 8 housing issues such as vouchers and inspections with HUD.

– On October 20th, Norristown and Pottstown will have a joint council meeting in Pottstown to discuss joint issues.

– There is a cooperative effort between the School District and the Borough to rehabilitate 22 E. Second Street, now owned by the Borough, with students doing some of the work.

– The motion to authorize the submission of the Pottstown Skyline Lighting Project to the Montco Community Revitalization Board was approved and the project was made the #1 priority as part of the vote.

– There will be a store front decorating contest downtown for Christmas.

– Jason is trying to organize a joint meeting between Council and PDIDA to work with existing downtown business owners.

– Council chose to paint the Mrs. Smith Foil building and pocket an additional $45K for now.

– Motion to approve the submission of an EPA grant for Brownfield cleanup at Bethlehem Steel aka the Pottstown Industrial Complex was approved.

– Construction has begun on the Norfolk Southern bulk transfer station on South Keim St., which should result in an upgrade to the railroad crossing.

DO NOT DISCOUNT ANY ONE OF THESE! Some – like the lighting project – might be “flashier” than others, but they are all signs of positive, forward movement.

I would also like to direct you to an editorial in yesterday’s Mercury: Riverfest shines in town’s trifecta of outstanding events.

DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THE CHANGING TIDE THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY INITIATED! This editorial apparently did not inspire people to write in to acknowledge the collective success that you, as a community, have already shared. The whole town should take pride in that success… and not forget to thank each other and acknowledge each other’s roles in it.

For the most part, you ARE headed in the right direction. There will always be a decision that anyone from any side of a given issue will consider a setback. No one has to give up on their principles or their freedom of speech, as long as there is a fundamental agreement to come to the next issue in a cooperative spirit of doing what’s best for the town as a whole.

But what is “best for the town as a whole?” That has yet to be decided or even discussed or even scheduled for discussion. This is the heart and soul of community planning, and I’m relieved and psyched to have gotten this far in laying out what I hope has been an understandable framework for how to talk about and plan and envision the future. To be continued…

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