Hobart’s Run Hosts Successful Pottstown Neighborhood Summit

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people at Hobart's run summit
Image via Hobart's Run.
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Entire communities benefit when organizations work together to create affordable housing such as the Beech Street Factory lofts at 341 Beech St., according to Ben Lockwood, President and CEO of Housing Visions, Syracuse, N.Y., a nonprofit that works to create such below-market accommodations.

Speaking at the Hobart’s Run Neighborhood Summit on Saturday, May 14, Lockwood reminded the more than 45 individuals in attendance that Housing Visions was a key part of the partnership that led to the historic restoration of a vacant furniture warehouse to the Beech Street apartments.

Housing Visions worked closely with Genesis Housing Corporation, ArtFusion 19464, and other Pottstown organizations to open Beech Street in 2017.

“Beech Street is one of the best examples of our model,” Lockwood noted.

He provided a detailed look at a successful “recipe” that includes public and private partnerships, tax credits sold to investors (often banks), abandoned or under-utilized properties, and forward-thinking leadership that, together, creates life-changing housing for individuals and families who fall between qualifying for low-income housing and attaining housing they simply cannot afford.

According to the federal Housing and Urban Development website, “affordable housing” is defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing costs, including utilities.

Adding affordable housing to places like Pottstown helps create “mixed income communities with people from different walks of life – which really helps create strong neighborhoods,” Lockwood said. “Affordable housing contributes to urban revitalization in many ways,” from providing stability to children attending local schools, to providing conditions that contribute to residents’ steady employment.

Lockwood said there is a clear need for more affordable housing here in Pottstown and noted Housing Visions is looking for other project sites and partners in Montgomery County.

The Summit, held at Mount Olive Baptist Church on Mintzer Street, included an update from Cathy Skitko, director of communications and community relations for the Hobart’s Run neighborhood engagement program, launched by The Hill School in 2016.

“To our knowledge, Hobart’s Run – named for the underground stream that connects parts of Pottstown to Hill’s campus – is the only initiative like this created by a boarding high school to directly engage with and invest in its community,” Skitko said.

However, she added, in April Hobart’s Run was visited by an administrator at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., who had heard about the Pottstown effort and hopes to replicate it in their town.

Skitko noted improvements made to the Hobart’s Run focus area, roughly bordered by North Washington street in the west; Beech, Grant, and Jackson in the north; Keim in the east; and Queen in the south. Examples of projects to make the area safer and cleaner have included installation of 13 safety cameras, including two at the Ricketts Center basketball courts, and plans to install an additional camera near Washington Street; a growing block captain program; street lighting and sidewalk repairs near the Ricketts Center; a vibrant schedule of facilitated weekend litter cleanups; and availability of a tool share to help other resident groups conduct their own cleanups.

During the Neighborhood Summit, Skitko said the Hobart’s Run “Adopt-A-Trashcan” program has been notably successful.

To date, 75 bins have been placed throughout the Borough, thanks, in part, to business sponsorships that have helped fund additional purchases of the attractive, sturdy receptacles provided to residents at no cost — in exchange for a promise to maintain them.

Interestingly, a representative of the Lykins Neighborhood Association in Kansas City, MO., contacted Skitko after reading an online article about the trashcan program, as they hope to create a program based on Hobart’s Run model.

Hobart’s Run provides grants to promote homeownership in its focus area; encourage new business development in the area between the 500 and 900 blocks of High Street; and help residents improve their home or business facades. Skitko said more than $13,000 has been provided in the $500 Façade Improvement Grants alone since 2018.

Skitko shared information about Hobart’s Run work toward fostering Borough-wide inclusivity, often in collaboration with organizations ranging from the Pottstown branch of the NAACP and Trellis for Tomorrow to Pottstown Community Action, a grassroots group working to increase civic engagement and beautify local neighborhoods.

“When Hobart’s Run was created, we determined this was not a five, 10, or even 20-year project,” Skitko said. “There is still a great deal to do. We are committed to this initiative and to continuing our long-term, collaborative work to further improve Pottstown.”

Twila Fisher, who teaches a course on entrepreneurship at The Hill School in addition to serving as Hobart’s Run’s executive director, talked about the “Broken Windows Theory” developed in the 1980s, a concept that explains how one occurrence of disorder and crime often leads to another – until community members “stand up and say ‘we’re taking action,’” Fisher explained.

“To create change, residents need to say ‘this may not be my litter or my graffiti or my house that needs attention — but this is my neighborhood and my community, and I’m going to do something about it.”

Fisher then asked the Summit attendees introduce themselves and share their connection to Pottstown as well as why they chose to attend the Saturday morning gathering. The diverse residents, local business owners, clergy, and volunteers shared similar sentiments, ranging from appreciation for Pottstown’s beautiful architecture, a desire to see more of the town’s streets looking cleaner, and praise for Pottstown’s increasingly positive vibe.

Resident Denis Carpenter moved back to this area to retire, “and I really love it here,” he said.

Similarly, Kathleen Carpenter (no relation to Denis), said she moved back to Pottstown from New York City about eight years ago.

“I am thrilled about what people are doing here in Pottstown,” she said. “There are so many things going on here now. I’m also very happy to see the involvement of The Hill School through Hobart’s Run. Thank you.”

Find more information about Hobart’s Run initiatives and the Neighborhood Summit in Pottstown here.

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