Montco wants feedback in plan to use $161M in pandemic funds | Southeastern Pennsylvania


NORRISTOWN, Pa. – Montgomery County has a plan to use millions of dollars in pandemic recovery funds, but it wants the community’s input.

The county is proposing to use $161.4 million in federal funds to build 325 new affordable housing units, new centers for community spaces and services, new health operations and child care and more.

The county Recovery Office has released draft funding recommendations for public comment.

The public can provide feedback on the plan through July 29 before it’s presented for approval by county commissioners on Aug. 8.

Virtual town hall sessions are set for Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Comments also can be submitted online.

“The Draft Recovery Plan takes into account both community-identified priorities for supporting an equitable recovery post-pandemic, as well as the one-time nature of this funding source, to support projects that will have tangible impacts where the need is greatest,” said Valerie Arkoosh, chairman of the commissioners. “We thank the community members who served as reviewers and we welcome the public’s feedback.”

The plan follows a months-long community engagement process, through which the Recovery Office received 426 project submissions totaling $1.3 billion in funding requests, and 157 idea submissions.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Kenneth E. Lawrence said hundreds of community organizations, nonprofits, school districts, businesses, municipalities and individuals submitted projects and ideas.

The Draft Recovery Plan includes funding for 110 projects and allocates all funding.

The plan “prioritizes investment into historically underserved communities and transformative projects or ideas with the potential for spurring long-term change across Montgomery County while also addressing historic disparities,” commissioners Vice Chairman Kenneth E. Lawrence said.

It includes $32.4 million for housing, including for 325 new affordable housing units, funding creation of two new temporary housing facilities, preserving existing affordable units and creating a foundation for sustainable creation of future affordable housing.

Also, $27.9 million for community spaces and services, constructing and improving centers housing multiple providers in impacted communities, and $18.1 million supporting expansion and innovation across behavioral health operations and facilities.

It proposes spending $9.6 million for child care provider operational support, new child care service models, and study and analysis towards transformative adoption of best practices.

Other highlights of the plan are:

Affordable Housing – $32.4 million: The plan “responds to the community’s prioritization for investment into more affordable housing options across the county, given the challenges to housing stability that the pandemic and related economic crises took on renters and homeowners,” the county said in a statement.

It includes investments supporting construction of 325 new affordable housing units for low- and moderate-income renters and homeowners. To encourage future development of affordable units, the plan also includes $5.5 million in seed funding for the Housing Opportunities Fund.

“This innovative public-private partnership will turn unused land, blighted or condemned properties, and/or hotels for sale into affordable rental housing,” the statement said.

The plan also includes a $500,000 expansion of the down payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers, and $5.8 million to support renovation of public and privately owned affordable units.

The plan also allocates $6.8 million for short-term housing for single adults experiencing homelessness, including costs associated with the relocation of the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center that closed this month.

Behavioral Health – $18.1 million: The plan supports programming into mental healthcare access across the county. It sets aside $5 million for school-based behavioral health services, which will let school districts hire staff through a program coordinated by County Recovery and Mental Health Offices.

Funded projects additionally support child and adolescent art therapy, support services for rural older adults and counseling services specific to LGBTQIA+ residents, among others.

It also sets aside $5 million to create a behavioral health crisis response service center for “a long-needed investment” into the county’s ability to serve residents experiencing mental health crises, the statement said.

Community Services and Facilities – $27.9 million: The Recovery Office recommends projects that will invest in historically underserved communities and provide facilities to house critical services and gathering spaces.

The plan supports a new site for ACLAMO Family Centers in Norristown, which primarily serves the Latino/Hispanic population, and uses $8.8 million to establish and renovate facilities serving the Norristown community.

Also, $5.25 million is recommended to create a community and wellness center specific to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. And $5.5 million to support the YWCA Tri-County’s new site expansion in Pottstown, as well as other investments for centers across the county.

Child Care – $9.6 million: The plan funds $4 million in direct operational support for child care centers across the county through a program that will be coordinated by the County’s Recovery and Early Learning Resource Center offices. Also, $3.3 million is to implement a novel in-home child care program supporting off-hours workers, and $1.8 million is spread across mentorship and domestic violence support projects.

The Recovery Office also received several “idea” submissions that spoke to the need for further investment into addressing the early childcare worker crisis, citing challenges in worker retention and pay, ongoing education and training, and ability to attract qualified workers.

In response, $500,000 is recommended to be set aside for convening stakeholders in further research, strategic planning and pilot programming to address these challenges.

Economic and Workforce Development – $14.4 million: In response to its outreach specifically to small, minority and women-owned businesses, the Recovery Office received several submissions requesting support for business operations and other needs.

The plan allocates $2.7 million in small grants directly to improve women and minority-owned businesses, made immediately available to qualifying businesses that had already applied to the Pandemic Recovery Fund.

Other qualifying businesses, with priority placed on the county’s qualified census tracts in Norristown and Pottstown, would also be eligible to apply for the grant program. Also, $2.5 million would be provided across multiple projects to coordinate impactful investment in Norristown and Pottstown businesses.

Workforce development across multiple sectors, tuition assistance initiatives, and job marketing and preparedness mentoring projects would get $8.2 million.

Food Security – $8.4 million: Project and idea submissions showed a prevalent community need for investment in all aspects of the county’s emergency food infrastructure, including food distribution, food production, policy and strategy, and coordination across all partners, the statement said.

It says the projects funded in the plan “represent a commitment on the part of county and community partners to improve and construct a more cohesive and productive system incorporating focus on root causes.”

The plan funds projects that expand and improve the county’s food security infrastructure, including a new distribution warehouse, planned logistics and coordination services connecting different partners, and a new food policy council resource to develop cohesive strategies across agriculture, food security and public health.

Public Health and Safety – $11.3 million: The plan includes multiple initiatives focused on improving Montgomery County’s public health and public safety infrastructure. It lists $9 million to improve emergency medical services workers training and pay, improve child and maternity health outcomes, assist firehouses experiencing pandemic-related financial losses, and analyze, study and improve the county’s overall emergency services system.

It also includes gun and domestic violence mitigation programs, COVID-19 monitoring and mitigation strategies, and access to digital health enhancement efforts.

Other included projects: The Draft Recovery plan also recommends more than $45 million supporting initiatives in multiple program areas including:

$18.2 million for government services, including revenue replacement, essential worker retention and support and service improvement projectS.

$8.1 million for premium pay for essential county workers.

$5.6 million for public infrastructure, including lead water piping replacement in Pottstown and multiple projects across the Wissahickon watershed

$2.6 million for educational services and school building upgrades in qualified census tract communities.

$1.3 million for social services, including projects providing violence prevention, clothing distribution, immigrant case management, college student support, and transgender assistance services.

$1.25 million to support community data resources and support non-profits affected by the pandemic.

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