County officials meet with legislators, local officials to discuss housing issues

Chester County Commissioners host legislative delegation to hear lived experiences of residents and discuss housing in Chester County. (Left to Right): Front Row: Rob Henry (Administrator, Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness), Pastor Mary Ann Mertz (St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church of Oxford), Tamela Luce (President & CEO Phoenixville Community Health Foundation and Co-Chair Phoenixville Community Health Foundation), Katherine Evans (Church Housing Corp.), Wendy Gaynor (Operations Manager, Orion Communities), Kris Keller (Executive Director, Orion Communities). Second Row: Matrie Johnson (Director of Programs, Home of the Sparrow), Hallie Romanowski (Executive Director, ACT in Faith), Leandria Hall (Director of Programs, Oxford Neighborhood Services), Faith Rosa (The Erica Lundmark Group, Coldwell Banker Realty), Sheri Houpt (Housing Counselor, Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness), Roberta Cosentino (Assistant City Manager of Coatesville), Mayor Peter Urscheler of Phoenixville, Cheryl Miles (Community Housing Development Director, Kennett Area Community Services), Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste of West Chester, Ethan Seletsky (Regional Representative, Office of US Senator Bob Casey PA),Conor Johnston (Constituent Advocate, Office of US Representative Chrissy Houlahan, PA-06)

Chester County Commissioners, represented by Commissioner Josh Maxwell, in partnership with the Allies for Housing in Chester County, hosted a legislative gathering this week at the Chester County Government Services Center.  The goals of the gathering were to hear examples of lived housing experiences and to explore ways legislators and community groups can work together to ensure affordable, equitable, and accessible housing is available to all residents of Chester County.

The legislative gathering served as a follow up to a similar gathering held one year ago.  This year’s event featured a historical perspective offered by Cheryl Miles of Kennett Area Community Services, and elected officials’ responses to the housing crisis from West Chester Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste and Conor Johnston, Constituent Advocate from the office of US State Representative Chrissy Houlahan.

Said Cheryl Miles, in her remarks, “Folks from our group want to share their stories and they want us to know that, not only do they need help with housing, but they also need housing that is going to be within their income range.  The need assistance to not just move in, but to be able to maintain a stable housing experience.”

Following the elected officials’ responses, presentations centered on homelessness were given.  Attendees heard from ‘Jessica’ who spoke to her personal experience with homelessness in Chester County.  Robert Henry, Administrator for Chester County’s Partnership to End Homelessness, then gave an update on recent results from Chester County’s Point in Time Count, highlighting an 8% increase in homeless individuals over the past year.  Pastor Mary Ann Mertz of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Oxford then spoke to her community’s response to homelessness.

The program then shifted to the lack of affordable rental units. ‘David’ shared his experience regarding his struggles and Kris Keller, Executive Director for Orion Communities, presented rental data for Chester County.  Katherine Evans, Church Housing Corp., continued the program by speaking to the role of local non-profits as leaders in the response to those in need of affordable housing.

Said Kris Keller, “Earlier this August, an email arrived from an Orion Communities friend, landlord and developer asking, ‘What style of housing do we need to build to meet the requirements of the clients you serve and the homeless in our area?’ The reality during this national housing crisis is we need everything we can get! We need studios for extremely low-income folks. We need 3-bedroom apartments for single moms. We need starter houses for young families. We need accessible units for elders and people differently abled. We need options in the $350-$850 per month. We responded that if you build it, we will help find families for all types of housing!”

The program continued with ‘Faith’ sharing their lived experiences regarding finding an affordable path to home ownership.  Sheri Houpt, Housing Counselor with Housing Partnership of Chester County, reinforced the difficulties in finding affordable housing with a presentation of the Chester County Housing data.  Roberta Cosentino, Assistant City Manager of Coatesville, and Tamela Luce, President and CEO at Phoenixville Community Health Foundation and Member of the Phoenixville Council for Affordable Housing, presented actions Coatesville and housing coalitions have taken in response to the housing shortage.

Matrie Johnson, Director of Programs at Home of the Sparrow, then led the group in filling out a 3-month pledge card.  The program concluded with remarks from Mayor Peter Urscheler of Phoenixville.

Said Mayor Peter Urscheler, “We need this diversity, we need this inclusion within our communities.  We need balanced communities where people can work together and learn from one another.  One of the most special things we have in Phoenixville is that our Code Blue Center is directly next door to a brand new $2200 per month apartment complex. This is a testament to the value and richness of our community and the people within it.”

The legislative gathering was attended by the county’s legislative delegation, county officials, legislative staff, and nonprofit representatives:

Chester County Legislative Delegation and Elected Officials

Senator John Kane

Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste, West Chester

Mayor Peter Urscheler, Phoenixville

Roberta Cosentino, Assistant City Manager, Coatesville

Eden Ratliff, Manager, Kennett Township

Elise Grashof, Assistant Township Manager, Wallace Township

Yolanda Van De Krol, Chester County Clerk of Courts

Diane O’Dwyer, Acting Chester County Recorder of Deeds

Chester County 

Commissioner Josh Maxwell, Vice Chair

Robert Kagel, County Administrator

Erik Walschburger, Deputy County Administrator

Pat Bokovitz, Director, Chester County Department of Human Services

Dolores Colligan, Director, Chester County Department of Community Development

Carrie Bamper, Community Resilience Coordinator, Chester County Department of Emergency Services


Legislative Staff 

Elizabeth Brindle, District Office Coordinator, Office of PA State Representative Danielle Friel Otten

Shari Cooper, Constituent Advocate, Office of PA State Representative Christina Sappey

Michael Hartman, Chief of Staff, PA State Senator Carolyn Comitta

Conor Johnston, Constituent Advocate, US Representative Chrissy Houlahan

Jennifer Pyc, District Office Director, PA State Representative Melissa Shusterman

Ethan Shaffer, Constituent Services Director, PA State Senator Carolyn Comitta

Ethan Seletsky, Regional Representative, PA State Senator Bob Casey

Steve Warhola, Chief of Staff, PA State Senator John Kane

Tia L. Watson, Regional Director SEPA, US Senator Bob Casey

Nicole Whitlock, Chief of Staff, PA State Senator Katie Muth


Nonprofit Representatives and Community Advocates

Ruby Abouraya, Development Director, Safe Harbor

Nancy Boston, Oxford SILO

Madison Chambers, Oxford Neighborhood Services

Michelle Culclasure, Program Manager, Safe Harbor

Dawn Grieco, Oaks Ministry

Peter Guman, First Presbyterian Church of West Chester

Robbe Healy, Secretary, Housing Partnership of Chester County Board of Directors

Ken Hutton, Executive Director, Housing Partnership of Chester County

David Jenkins, St. Christopher’s Episcopal of Oxford

Robert Malone, Director of Programs, Housing Partnership of Chester County of Chester – DCIS

Paige Marsden, Communication and Analytics Associate, Chester County Community Foundation

Jim Mercante, Member Steering Committee, Southern Chester County Opportunity Network

Don Neimetz, Executive Director, North Star

Twana Newton, Intake Specialist, Safe Harbor

Kelly Raggazino, Chief Executive Officer, Open Hearth

Kevin Ressler, President and CEO, Alliance for Health Equity

Burt Rothenberger, Member, Governance Board for Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness

Robin Senss, Chief Operating Officer, Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children

Gary Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Chester County Economic Development Council

Stephenie Stevens, Grants Director and Outreach Coordinator, Chester County Community Foundation

Selina Toedter, Southern Chester County Opportunity Network

Luis Tovar, Commissioner, Advisory Committee for Latino Affairs

Chris Weiman, Habitat for Humanity

Luke Zubrod, Square Roots Collective

Don Neimetz, Executive Director, North Star

Participants and Organizers:

Katherine Evans, Church Housing Corporation

Wendy Gaynor, Operations Manager, Orion Communities

Leandria Hall, Program Director – Special Programs, Oxford Area Neighborhood Services

Rob Henry, Administrator, Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness

Sheri Houpt, Housing Counselor, Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness

Matrie Johnson, Director of Programs, Home of the Sparrow

Kris Keller, Executive Director, Orion Communities

Tamela Luce President & CEO Phoenixville Community Health Foundation and Co-Chair Phoenixville Community Health Foundation

Pastor Mary Ann Mertz, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church of Oxford

Cheryl Miles, Chairwoman, Black Women of Chester County in Action

Hallie Romanowski, Executive Director, ACT in Faith of Greater West Chester

Brooke Seeger, Habitat for Humanity

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