Housing? What housing?

Nether Providence is currently at the beginning of its strategic (or is it comprehensive?) plan. The purpose of this plan is to lay out the path for the township over the next 10-20 years. The plan is intended to address a wide range of topics including parks & open space, housing and transportation.

Housing in particular is an issue that’s not often discussed comprehensively in Nether Providence. People move here because its mostly a single family housing suburban commuting community. Most of the space is already built out with fewer and fewer subdivisions going on.

One of the results of this is that housing prices are skyrocketing. Most of the residents in South Media and Garden City could no longer afford the houses they live in. The lack of housing supply induces upward pressure on housing prices. There are houses in Garden City for rent for $2600/month I’ve heard. That’s $31,200 annually. For reference, someone earning $15/hour (which is over double minimum wage) also makes…$31,200 annually. For that to be affordable, you’d have to make north of $100k/year. To rent a small Garden City house. It’s even worse in South Media, which is a more desirable location due to its proximity to Media.

This isn’t just Nether Providence – this is happening across DelCo. Jon Geeting, a Philadelphia activist, posted a graph here. Housing construction across the Philadelphia suburbs has dropped and DelCo remains far behind its neighboring counties (in fairness, its also territorially smaller). But our county of a half million constructed 417 homes in 2022. 417. The county seems to have never recovered from the housing bust in the late 2000s.

How to add more homes? One means is to build on what green space remains – as happened on Wallingford Ave. and will soon happen on Moore Rd. As an environmentalist, I’m not overly keen on tearing down forests and paving over them, but that’s the option that’s being taken thus far. As church attendance continues to wane, it can be expected that over the next 15-20 years at least one of the churches in Nether Providence will shutter and likely that will become prime development space as well.

But there’s only so much land in Nether Providence and subdividing and building on open space only gets us so far even if you are willing to sacrifice what little green space remains. That leads to the question of denser housing. Going from stand-alone dwellings to duplexes, quads and apartments. Building more multifamily (and multigenerational) housing is a means of providing more living space without sacrificing more of nature.

Traditionally there’s pushback to denser housing for a few reasons. One is that it will lower housing prices, and for most of us, our houses are a significant investment. So if housing prices decline, so does our net wealth. But, for new families moving in, lower housing prices would be a boon. This allows us to maintain a more diverse community. Another pushback to denser housing is services. More families, more children, more cars on the road. Those things can be planned for – that’s the purpose of this kind of comprehensive planning.

That planning will need to look at the current township zoning. Zoning is often the barrier to denser development. Our zoning map is…well, kind of chaos. Mostly that’s because the township existed before people decided zoning was a good idea, so its a chaotic mix of housing sprinkled haphazardly. If there will be more housing, where? Garden City Manor lies next to Putnam, maybe allow Putnam-style housing to spread into the manor to replace the decaying remnants of WW2 era temporary housing? That area has poor transportation options though. More development around “downtown” Wallingford, giving easy access to the Wallingford train station? Allow South Media to continue to spread outward from Media or allow denser housing in parts of South Media? Create more housing in the Baltimore Pike area along the trolley line?

These are the kinds of questions the planners will need to ask. People will need somewhere to live. It’d be nice to plan for it ahead of time rather than waiting for a developer to roll in and start another contentious battle. There will be opportunities for public participation in Nether Providence’s strategic planning coming up, so give some thought to our community’s future.

For more reading on the subject of affordable housing, check out Rachel Pastan’s blog from neighboring Swarthmore.

Categories: NPTownship