Thursday, April 3, 2014

Habitat is Back!

If you're a homeowner, you know that the biggest job is just maintaining your house.Right after you get that roof leak fixed, something goes wrong with the plumbing, or water gets into the basement. You know you should do something about the drafts coming in around the windows and doors. The cracks in the plaster are getting bigger, and the woodwork really ought to be painted again. Et cetera. Et cetera.

But if you're on a low income, home repair and improvement projects are often sidelined so you can feed and clothe your family. In a low income neighborhood, this means many houses on a single street will show the need for care. People riding through think to themselves, "This neighborhood's really going downhill." It doesn't help if you have abandoned properties in the same block.

This is why the proposed plan by Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County is so good for Norristown. Their project will, over the next 2 years, repair and rehabilitate more than 40 homes on Cherry Street, between Chestnut and Spruce.

If you drive down those blocks of Cherry Street, you realize that this has been the home to Norristown's working class for centuries. The houses are modest, yes, but sturdy, and some have nice architectural features. The street is pleasantly tree-lined and could be downright pretty if the houses just received a little TLC.
Half of our usual class of developers would look at Cherry and say none of the houses could be saved. They'd want to level them all, along with the trees, then throw up cheap wooden housing that wouldn't last 20 years. Or put up another Family Dollar store. They'd leave us with vacant lots. The rest of the developers wouldn't touch the project at all.

Habitat for Humanity's focus is on the neighborhood and the residents. Marianne Lynch, executive director of Montco's Habitat, in a statement to the Times Herald, said, “We are shifting our mission to help homeowners stay in their homes. We are a catalyst for the neighborhood to improve...." In addition, Habitat will try to acquire abandoned properties in the project area, to rehab them and sell them on the open market.

Someone is bound to say I shouldn't compare Habitat to for-profit developers. That's it's comparing apples to oranges. But my point is that the Habitat approach--simply taking what we have and improving it---is more in keeping with the part of Norristown's Comprehensive Plan dealing with preserving our look. Somehow though, when developers come in saying we need modern makeovers in our town, no one will say no to them. 

Habitat in N-town, 2008.
Habitat has helped Norristown out before. Between 1992 and 2011, they did extensive rehabilitation on 21 homes. This new project are lighter repairs, but will effect more blocks. And once the neighborhood starts looking good again, those fixed-up abandoned houses should sell.

I'm happy to say that Council unanimously endorsed the project, and agreed to help in any way they could

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