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Chester County Press

Not enough 'affordable housing' in Kennett Borough and Kennett Township, critics tell officials

07/30/2019 12:26PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Audience members at the special meeting of the Kennett Borough Council of Economic Development on July 29 criticized the results of a recently-distributed Kennett-area development map for what they felt devoted too little focus on the availability of affordable housing in the borough and in Kennett Township.

The map and corresponding data was introduced before members of borough council and two Kennett Township supervisors by Nate Echeverria, the Director of Economic Development for the borough and the township. One side of the map provided an aerial view of the borough and township that was dotted with 20 indicators that showed the locations of developments defined as “currently built,” “under construction” “approved” and “proposed.”  From that list, there were 762 total residential units – 268 in the borough and 494 in the township, of which 539 are classified as “multi-family,” 138 are classified as “twin/duplex,” and 85 are indicated as being a single-family home.

Echeverria said that the numbers coincide with the projections included in the 2015 Kennett Region Economic Development Study, which he said set a goal to create between 700 and 1,200 additional units in the borough and township by 2030.

“I think what's interesting about this map is that it tracks very closely to the Economic Development Study and the places in the study where we said we want to promote growth, and so I think this is potentially a good sign,” he said.

On the residential ledger, Cannery Row was listed in the “recently built” category with 14 residential units, while The Flats at Kennett was included in the “under construction” list, and will provide 175 units. Those listed in the “proposed” category included the Parkside development, proposed to be constructed on North Walnut Street across from Anson B. Nixon Park, which calls for 170 residential units; the West State Street Apartments, which proposes 187 units; the Giordano development on Ways Lane and Cypress Street, that proposes 77 units; and the Mitchell Homes off of Rosedale Road east of the Legacy Fields, that projects 72 units to be built.

From these numbers, eight percent – or 61 units – are defined as “affordable housing,” which will all come from the proposed Cope Road Senior Center in the borough.

That's too small a number, audience members said.

A member of the borough's planning commission told Echeverria that while he recognizes the documents that spell out the community's efforts to provide housing for those with limited means, “I see in your total that 8 percent of the 762 units are classified as affordable,” he said. “I think we need to do a little better than that. Half of our population probably falls below the capability of buying into the State Street lots or [The Flats at Kennett]. I really would appreciate some further discussion on how we handle that particular problem, which we all recognize is a significant one in the borough.”

“I have a great deal of concern about the inability for us to communicate effectively back and forth about what is meant by 'workers housing,' and what is meant by 'affordable housing,'” said Clara Saxton of the Historic Kennett Square Architecture Review Board. “When I listen to those who are proposing these projects, they think it's affordable if it's only $1,400 for a one-bedroom apartment. In this borough, it's 50 percent rentals and they're not single people. They are families who need a place to live. And we need our builders to understand the community we're trying to build housing for.”

Saxton said that the 60 percent rental percentage in the borough is a “precarious kind of equation.”

“If we can do anything with all of this, affordable housing has to be the most important thing we're working on, so that the folks in this area can have good places to live, with good construction, and hopefully the option that they can buy a home. We need to find more opportunities for ownership, even if there are condominium home ownership opportunities. There is such a difference when you that you know that you own the place where you live, and fostering that is important in the borough.”

Echeverria defined “affordable housing” as “any project that is income restricted through their financing mechanism.

“In the case of the [proposed Cope Road Senior Center], it's a state-competitive financing program that with it has requirements about rate percentages that you can charge,” he added. 

The audience's criticism dovetails with the facts, which ironically are detailed in the Kennett Region Economic Development Study. As stated in the 2009-2013 American Community Survey data and included in the study, the share of Kennett Square residents living below the poverty line decreased by 2.6 points from 2009 to 2013, but in recent years, the percentage of the borough residents under the age of 18 and over 65 living in poverty has increased.

In 2013, the study wrote, 16 of every 100 borough residents under 18 and just under 9 of every 100 residents over 65 lived in poverty. The economic study wrote that these age groups represent the borough’s most vulnerable populations, “and should be a focus within the crafting of comprehensive economic development activities.”

The economic study also stated that the median household income is significantly lower in Kennett Square, compared to the median household incomes in Chester County. About 30 of every 100 Kennett Square households have incomes less than $35,000, the report wrote, compared to just under 14 of every 100 households within the county.

The study further stated that the borough has the smallest share of high-income households, with just under 10 percent having incomes greater than $150,000, as compared to over 30 percent in the county.

“The diversity of household income distributions within Kennett Square demonstrate that prospective economic development activities will need to accommodate a broad spectrum of wants and needs,” the study wrote.

Luis Tovar, a member of the Advisory Commission on Latina Affairs, called for the borough and township to focus a part of their economic efforts on providing opportunities for households whose earned income “is insufficient to secure quality housing in reasonable proximity to the workplace, which is what we have here,” he said.

Tovar called for the percentage of affordable housing in the township and borough to increase from 8 percent to 15 percent.

“We need to take care of the laborers who have long days and work between six and seven days a week,” he said. “They are the backbone to this community, and we can't lose that. Whatever the age, whatever the ethnicity, we have to be able to stand out, not because we created 3,000 units, but because the community helped to create what it needed.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].