Monday, October 29, 2007

"Priced Out" says Morning Call; the Affordable Housing Crisis in the Lehigh Valley

An article appeared in Sunday's Morning Call about the affordable housing crisis in this area. This is a topic NET has been speaking about for over a year now. We know that it is one of the biggest hurdles facing young professionals in this area. And I know first hand as I am currently in the housing marketing.

The article followed the Telesha family who are looking for a home under $125,000. Not surprisingly, they only found homes which were in bad neighborhoods, or in dire need of repair. In my opinion, however, they are the extreme. Most of you have expressed "affordable housing" as being between $150,000 and $200,000. This is still a struggle as most of us, as the article touched upon, are ineligible for any sort of assistance program.

Vanessa Williams

The article reported:

"In the past five years, home prices have risen more than 55 percent, hitting a record high last year of $228,000. Prices are even higher now, with the average cost of an existing home up 3 percent from a year ago.

Median incomes in the Valley, meanwhile, have risen at less than a third of that rate in the same period, according to the U.S. census.

Lehigh and Northampton counties deem the lack of affordable housing a growing issue and are planning to convene a first-ever summit on the issue.

''You have young professionals who are almost becoming the working poor,'' said Chris Bennick of Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley. ''It's a crisis.''

Some fear that the growing failure of people to make the jump from rental housing to owning a home will undermine the Valley's economic boom.

The dearth of affordable housing threatens to affect employers -- particularly hospitals and schools that may not be able to attract essential employees. A bi-county study published this year found teachers, policemen and others can no longer afford homes in the Valley that cost the median price.

On the heels of the report, the two counties have taken some steps to address the problem. Both counties have put aside money to pay for a regional housing coordinator to develop a strategy to boost the number of affordable units.

Lehigh County has re-established its housing trust fund, which will pay for the construction and rehabilitation of houses for low-to-moderate income families, and hopes to begin disbursing funds by the end of the year.

Other initiatives also provide a measure of hope. The Housing Association and Development Corp. announced last week an ambitious plan to build and repair 26 homes in Allentown, many of which will be sold for less than $100,000. In Bethlehem, Habitat plans to build 26 affordable homes near the top of South Mountain.

The number of people in the Valley who need help, however, is growing. And few assistance programs target people who are not low-income. For example, only families earning 80 percent of the median income or less will be eligible to buy homes in the HADC project."


"Participants in the Valley's recent study on affordable housing, completed in May, recommended creating a revolving loan pool to provide financing to nonprofit developers of low-cost housing.

They also recommended waiving some fees and providing incentives for private developers that commit to building affordable housing. That's an idea embraced by housing advocates across the country.

''In order to meet the demand for affordable housing, we have to mobilize the private sector,'' Pam Patenaude of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

Florida is addressing the problem aggressively after a housing summit galvanized the state, Patenaude said. The state has created a pilot program to build ''work force'' housing for those making between 60 to 120 percent of the area's median income. Florida is also using density bonuses to encourage private developers to build more affordable units.

The Valley's bi-county advisory committee has taken steps to make affordable housing a permanent issue. It will meet at least four times a year, organize an annual summit and produce annual progress reports.

Experts say it's wise for the two counties to take the long view because the availability of affordable homes in the Valley is unlikely to change soon."


girl said...

So what is the Median income?

Jeff Pooley said...

It's worth pointing out that there are any number of beautiful, late 19th century homes in center city Allentown for under $100,000. My wife and I have been living happily on 6th Street for the last four years, in a house that cost under $70,000. The Call article, in essence, writes off these downtown neighborhoods with a single, misleading crime anecdote.

NET said...

Thanks for pointing that out Jeff. Many NET members live in the West End Theatre District of Allentown near 19th St. There are many affordable homes there within short walking distance to the farmers market, restaurants, bars and entertainment.