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

Gloria Steinem

Friday, May 10, 2013

Did Conshohocken Revitalization begin with Section 8 Housing?

I was doing some research for future blog posts on the local impact of the federal Urban Renewal program when I encountered a website with the wonky name of “Redevelopment in Conshohocken Online Information” (http://www.conshohockens.com/).  In the section on the history of redevelopment’s progress in the borough the website makes a claim that is worth noting and discussing.  I have trouble accepting it at face value, but I have done no specific research on Conshohocken’s post-WWII history.  So I am asking you for help.

The website’s home page briefly covers the early history of Conshohocken.  More recent times dominate the narrative, beginning with the crises of both the Alan Wood Steel and Lee Tire companies by the 1970s.  The page focuses on a 25-acre site designated as Conshohocken’s Urban Renewal Area, the core of old downtown.  Demolition of this area began after receipt of a federal grant in 1974.  The site relates the first faltering steps of proposed projects, through the failure of the (second) borough redevelopment program in 1981, allegedly due to high interest rates. 

Then things changed.  The article argues that Conshohocken’s revival truly began in 1981 with a change in developers.  The crucial paragraph is quoted here in full:

“When interest rates started to turn around in 1981, the Borough turned
to Meehan-Weinmann to develop a 40-unit Section 8 Housing development
in the redevelopment area. Within a year the revitalization efforts of
Conshohocken came to fruition with the start of construction on the
Pleasant Valley Apartments.  Based on their performance Meehan-Weinmann
was then selected by the Borough and the Montgomery County
Redevelopment Bureau to sign a contract on October 3, 1983 as the
exclusive Redeveloper of the 25-acre Urban Renewal Area.”

Can this be true?  Was Conshohocken’s first real step toward revival the construction of Section 8 Housing?  Doesn’t this fly in the face of all that is accepted about types of residences, that apartment dwellers contribute less to a community than homeowners, and that Section 8 dwellers contribute the least of all? 

The chronological sequence of construction is indisputable, and the claim that the developer’s success with the Pleasant Valley Apartments led to its being selected for further development rings true.  Does this make a Section 8 Housing project the first actual achievement of borough revival?  The website claims this to be so, but is there another interpretation?  What is the general perception of those who lived through this time?  Did they share this view, and welcomed the Pleasant Valley Apartments?

This is a subjective question for sure, and one that can be best answered by Conshohocken residents, particularly the “old Conshy” hands.  I want to hear from you!  This is an opportunity to be heard on a subject on the lips of many right now, your neighbors just upriver in particular.  Your knowledge can only help, and better inform the controversy.

Please, before you comment, check out the site to see what it actually says; don’t just take my word for it.  Then tell me—and by extension, a steadily increasing number of people—what you think about this well, interesting observation.