Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Editorial: Doing the Public Good

09/06/2023 11:39AM ● By Richard Gaw

On July 11, the seven-member Kennett Borough Planning Commission submitted a proposal to the Borough Council outlining measures that if enacted could possibly increase the amount of what the proposal called “non-luxury housing” – commonly referred to as affordable housing -- in the borough. 

“The need for policies aimed at housing affordability in the borough is broadly recognized throughout the community and is reinforced by available data,” the proposal stated, and was immediately followed by four bullet points of Kennett Borough housing reality: overcrowding in an already densely-populated borough that is only one square-mile large; the fact that housing demand has exceeded housing inventory; that new housing development may open the door for upper middle-income families but not for those of the middle- and lower-income sector of the economic spectrum; and the most glaring reality of all – that the developers building these new units have no plans to slice out even a small portion of their complexes to accommodate the working class without being forced to do so through governmental policies.

Free from these restrictions, real estate developers have conspired to capitalize on the growing popularity of a borough that has earned a reputation – and rightfully so – as one of America’s best small towns. For nearly the past decade, an entire cross-section of humanity has endeared itself to the borough and set out to own a piece of that very limited pie – young couples wanting to raise their children in a diverse and thriving borough with an outstanding school district; active seniors who wish to live a minutes’ walk from culture and restaurants and activities; and small business owners desiring to join a fraternity of merchants whose collective energy has created a harmonious buzz up and down State Street and its tributaries.

Sometimes, however, it is bad to be good, and right now, the elected and appointed officials who lead this borough forward are faced with another reality: Kennett Square Borough is choking on its own success. The Flats of Kennett, opened in 2020, is at full capacity with a long waiting list, with monthly rents that start at $1,920 for a one-bedroom apartment; the Lofts at Kennett Pointe are anticipated to reach full capacity when completed, and where one-bedroom apartments start at $2,150 a month; and the current construction of Kennett Square Apartments on West State Street and Mill Road will showcase 166 Class A luxury units. 

There’s gold in Kennett Square Borough, and real estate developers are panning what’s left of it like ravenous excavators, and why?  Because they can, unregulated. 

*    *    *    *

When the new Kennett Borough Council first discussed their goals last year, their first was to get the brough’s financial house in order. Their second priority was to create opportunities that will allow those of lesser means to be able to live in a community where they work, where they worship and where they send their children to school. It is time for this Council – and indeed, Chester County Government -- to enact policies and zoning regulations that level an embarrassingly unfair and lopsided playing field. 

They would do well to start this journey by exploring what is going on in Montgomery County, Md., one of the nation’s leading innovators in affordable housing. 

In the Aug. 27 New York Times article, “This is Public Housing. Just Don’t Call It That,” author Conor Dougherty wrote that for the past several decades, the county has enforced regulations that require developers to set aside about 15 percent of all new units throughout the county for households earning less than two-thirds of area’s median income, which is $52,000 for a family of four. One of the best examples of the county’s efforts to enact affordable housing regulations is seen at The Laureate -- whose controlling ownership is through the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, a government agency – where 30 percent of its 268 units are designated as affordable housing, and where residents pay as little as half the advertised monthly rental fee.

Over the past four decades, the HOC in Montgomery County has acquired 2,000 moderate income units throughout the county. In short, it’s an investment in what HOC Executive Director Chelsea Andrews called “the public good.” 

“The market on its own is not functioning the way we need it to, and that’s when we want the government to step up,” said Andrew Friedson, a member of the Montgomery County Council. 

Whether the affordable housing shortage in Kennett Borough and in other towns in southern Chester County is solved through the establishment of government-based agencies or by enacting hard line regulations, the first method of determining a solution is to admit there is a problem, and the Kennett Borough Planning Commission has done just that.

“Our situation is not a unique one,” Commission member Luke Zubrod said at an Aug. 9 Borough Council work session meeting, when he introduced the Commission’s proposal. “Communities in Chester County and in the state are facing similar challenges. These aren’t silver-bullet solutions, but they would lay a foundation for progress in this area. 

“The Planning Commission’s goal is to spark a conversation about housing policies. I think the value of going through a process like this is that we are looking at all of the issues and pursuing some concrete action steps in parallel. I don’t think we need to get through the end of the journey in order to start making progress on it.”