Affordable Housing in Montgomery County
By Abby Rolland
In November of 2022, harp-weaver staff attended a workshop that focused on affordable housing in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, a county bordering Philadelphia County and one considered well-resourced. However, the session illustrated that there are issues communities face that aren’t seen on the surface.
A variety of stakeholders discussed the holistic, county-wide response needed to address the lack of affordable housing in Montgomery County. Affordable housing affects multiple populations, including people experiencing homeless and workers such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters who have trouble accessing housing they can afford close to their jobs. It can be caused by a variety of factors, and it has been exacerbated by housing inequities and COVID-19.
To address the lack of affordable housing in Montgomery County, advocates and city government joined together to create the Homes for All initiative as part of the Your Way Home public-private partnership. Through its data collection advocacy, partnership, and funding work, Homes for All seeks to increase the number of affordable housing available in Montgomery County.
In this blog post, we share the need for affordable housing for different sectors of the population, current housing prices in Montgomery County, the challenges that face affordable housing advocates, and the collaborative efforts toward creating more affordable housing in Montgomery County.
People experiencing homelessness
One group that would benefit from affordable housing is people experiencing homelessness. A variety of factors can cause homelessness – from mental illness, to climate disasters, to rising housing costs, to job losses, to COVID-19 impacts, to many other reasons. While some experience chronic homelessness, others can be thrust into homelessness by one or more external shocks.
Homelessness can be experienced in different ways. While the most obvious can be found in individuals living/staying on the streets, people experiencing homelessness could also be couch surfers, people in shelters, and people staying with family and/or friends. In Montgomery County specifically, “invisible homelessness” such as couch surfing makes it difficult to determine the numbers of people experiencing homelessness and the types of support they may need.
Workforce housing – housing that is affordable to the working public – does not mean low-income housing. The idea behind workforce housing is that vital members of the local workforce – such as teachers, health care workers, police officers, firefighters, childcare workers, municipal employees, and retail salespeople – may not be able to afford to live near their place of employment.
As of January 2023, the average teacher salary in Pennsylvania was $55,914, which would not be enough to afford the average 2-bedroom apartment in Montgomery County (see the calculations below). The average police officer salary in the state was $61,700; while the average firefighter salary was $62,969, neither of which would also be able to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Montgomery County.*
This problem affects not only Montgomery County, but other areas of the country as well. A news segment (beginning at 1:02) taped in Tampa, Florida illustrates the lack of affordable housing in the Tampa Bay area.
The video accurately points out that if teachers and first responders can’t afford housing in one area, they either have to look for housing farther away (thus resulting in longer commutes/days) or leave their profession altogether.
Housing Costs in Montgomery County
In Montgomery County, vacancy rates are low and affordable housing units are full. The 2022 median listing home price is for $410,000; which is well above what the local workforce population could consider, afford or even sustain. The average rent for the first quarter of 2022 was $1,700 for a 2-bedroom apartment, or $20,400 per year. Using the 30% rule of gross income, which has typically been used to figure out how much a person should pay for housing (although this number has proved problematic), an individual would have to make $68,000 per year to afford that apartment, which the average public sector worker does not make.
The article from CNET illustrates how individuals and families are struggling to make housing payments. As rent and housing prices increase, they “make it harder for families to cover other essential needs, let alone save or invest. That impact is enduring, undermining financial stability for years to come.” Higher housing costs contribute to increasing homelessness – providing affordable housing mitigates the issue.
Challenges and Collaborative Efforts
To address the lack of affordable housing available, Montgomery County needs an estimated $300 million to build new affordable housing and maintain current buildings.
However, similar to other places around the country, affordable housing advocates face challenges in combating stereotypes and tropes about affordable housing. Some residents hold a “NIMBY” perspective – otherwise known as “not in my background.” Without understanding the complexity of housing, as well as who would benefit from it, the county faces challenges in reaching out to individuals to educate and combat misconceptions about affordable housing.
Encouragingly, many people from a variety of sectors attended the workshop to learn more and share ideas about what a successful coalition to address the affordable housing crisis. From nonprofits to government to developers to others recognize that in order to implement affordable housing, it’s also critical to create a coalition that includes people with lived experiences on it. In other words, how does/would affordable housing affect the people who need affordable housing?
While there is a long way to go to address the affordable housing crisis in Montgomery County, committed individuals are determined to continue taking steps to collaborate together to ensure that living in the county is affordable and enjoyable for everybody.
To learn more about affordable housing in Montgomery County, check out the Homes for All initiative.
*Note that these salaries are average for the entire state of Pennsylvania. Salaries in Montgomery County could be higher; however, it is difficult to ascertain average salaries based off of information available.