"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Monday, April 15, 2013

“Section 8 Housing and Half-way Houses": A primer

I’m going to jump right in and lead off this blog with the subject so intimately connected with Norristown, as the title indicates.  But be warned, you may not like what you read.

The quote above appeared quickly after Gary Puleo’s article on my new book What Killed Downtown? (January 17), and was endorsed by others who castigated me for not mentioning either subject in my analysis of downtown’s collapse.*  This allows me to offer a perhaps unwelcome lesson in historical complexity.

My book declares downtown Norristown “dead” by 1975, and arguably earlier.  "Section 8," an amendment to the Housing Act of 1937 which established the housing subsidy program, was passed in August of 1974,  “Half-way houses” may have several specific meanings, but the seminal one was a result of the “Broderick Decision” of 1974 that began the “deinstitutionalization” of Norristown State Hospital.  Thus Norristown only began to experience the results of these events from the mid-to-late 1970s.  As the narrative of my book ended in early 1975, then neither Section 8 nor “half-way houses” had anything to do with the collapse of downtown.  Equally, the fundamental reason I identified for the collapse of downtown may well have contributed to the broad decline of Norristown, but it was by no means as fundamental.

Here then is my basic thesis:  First: there were several causes for Norristown’s overall decline. Second: They had to interact to achieve the effect they did.

Am I saying that all was well with Norristown neighborhoods before Section 8 and “half-way houses”?  Of course not.  Anyone who has actually read my book will know that.

A question to ponder until next time
If Section 8 and “half-way houses” date no earlier than the mid-to-late 70s, then why did the Norristown police institute K-9 patrols on Main Street to combat crime as early as 1972?
Hint:  The more things change….

Let me know what you think!

Here's the link: www.whatkilleddowntown.com

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