Lehigh Valley again among Top 10 best areas to retire, but local organizations and retiree weigh in
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Lehigh Valley again has been rated as one of the country's 10 best metro areas in which to retire.
The latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report rank the Lehigh Valley as the No. 9 metro area for retirement, the same ranking it had last year. The report names Allentown, specifically, but it stands in for the entire Lehigh Valley Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA.
While locals agree the Lehigh Valley has a lot of good going for it, not all local officials and residents agree with everything the experts who compiled the rankings said.
- The Lehigh Valley is the ninth best metro area to retire in 2023, according to U.S. News and World Report
- The criteria include the happiness of local residents, housing affordability, tax rates, health care quality and more
- Local organizations and a retiree weigh in on whether the Allentown area is a good place to retire
Among 150 regions of the country, the Best Places to Retire category includes four other Pennsylvania cities or metro areas in the Top 10: Lancaster at No. 1, Harrisburg at No. 2, York at No. 5 and Reading at No. 10.
The Top 10 cities outside of Pennsylvania are Pensacola, Florida at No. 3, Tampa, Florida at No. 4, Naples, Florida at No. 6, Daytona Beach, Florida at No. 7 and Ann Arbor, Michigan at No. 8.
The main criteria for the rankings include the happiness of local residents, housing affordability, tax rates, health care quality and more. In some cases, Allentown is used as the main example to illustrate the Lehigh Valley, just as the U.S. News report.
According to the U.S. News, the Lehigh Valley's median home price is $332,690, and the median rent $1,611-$2,193 a month, both of which are lower than that of major U.S. metro areas.
American real estate company Zillow indicates the average home price in Allentown is $257,162, which has increased by 5% from last year.
Of all the neighborhoods, West Ward has the highest average home value ($302,913) while Old Allentown Historic District has the lowest ($169,913).
Rick Daugherty, the executive director of Lehigh Valley Active Life, a local organization offering resources and support to the senior community, said the region had a housing advantage until 2000.
“Historically, we've had very affordable housing prices here, so people that are currently here and retired purchased their homes when prices were at an affordable level,” he said.
“I would definitely look at housing no longer being affordable in the Lehigh Valley, including Allentown."Rick Daugherty, the executive director of Lehigh Valley Active Life
But he said that perk no longer exists.
“I would definitely look at housing no longer being affordable in the Lehigh Valley, including Allentown," Daugherty said. "And going forward, that's going to have a negative impact on the quality of life for people, including retirees."
Daugherty said future retirees with their own houses may not be heavily affected, but it will be an issue for those who now are renting.
A quality-of-life survey by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion shows that up to eight in 10 residents worry about housing affordability in the Lehigh Valley.
And more than 50% of Lehigh Valley residents rated the region’s housing negatively — “not so good” or “poor,” which is significantly higher than the 28% in 2015, when Anthony Adams, a local retiree from New York, was going to retire in the Valley.
“I would say an advantage,” Adams said when asked whether housing affordability was a benefit for him to move to the Lehigh Valley. He now lives in Green Acres Park in Salisbury Township and is spending his retirement life largely in Allentown.
“If you have a good mortgage rate or you have paid off your home, then the housing affordability is not going to have much of an impact on you. I can say [that] for the older population, but I can't say for the younger population that's looking to get into the market. The housing prices [can] really hurt them seriously.”Rick Daugherty, executive director of Lehigh Valley Active Life
“If you have a good mortgage rate or you have paid off your home, then the housing affordability is not going to have much of an impact on you,” Daugherty said.
“I can say [that] for the older population, but I can't say for the younger population that's looking to get into the market. The housing prices [can] really hurt them seriously.”
Adams, a Brooklyn native, said he considers tax rates generally reasonable in the Lehigh Valley.
“I pay a school tax, and I pay a real estate tax," he said. "That’s really little to nothing."
According to Tax-Rate.org, the median property tax in Lehigh County for 2023 is “$3,004 for a home worth the median value of $203,200,” which is “1.48% of a property's assessed fair market value as property tax.”
The county is ranked 149th of the 3,134 counties nationwide for property taxes as a percentage of median income (4.39%).
Both residents and nonresidents of Allentown pay 1.35% of their earned income as income tax, on top of the Pennsylvania and federal income taxes.
That's higher than in Harrisburg (1% for residents and nonresidents) but lower than Philadelphia, (3.8% for residents and 3.4% for nonresidents).
Adams said he's happy about the city’s tax rate, but said food prices in the city are a bit higher.
Health care quality
Daugherty praised Allentown and Lehigh Valley for having two high-quality health care systems that are nationally ranked: Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke's University Health Network.
“We don't realize how lucky we are to have that right here in our backyard, and most of their outpatient clinics are in somebody's backyard,” he said.
“They're all over the Lehigh Valley, and obviously when you're retired, and you're older, health care becomes a more important part of your life.”
“I would give it an E for excellence.”Anthony Adams, a local retiree
To Adams, in addition to the service, the much shorter waiting line at the hospital compared to New York is a huge plus.
“When I go for my follow-ups and stuff like that, as soon as I sit down, they call me up,” he said. “Now if I was back home in New York, I'd be sitting there for two hours.
“I would give it an E for excellence.”
‘Park’ as a perk
As someone who’d spent two decades operating buses at New York City Transit Authority, Adams said the environment is a reason he decided to retire in the Lehigh Valley.
“It’s nice and peaceful,” he said. He said he’d go to parks and see concerts with his girlfriend, Ronnie Lawson, who’s a retiree in Allentown.
In fact, the city’s park system has been a catch for potential retirees. According to the City of Allentown, there are more than 25 parks in the city.
“It's a huge plus if you look at the number of homes that are within walking distance of the major parks in Allentown."Rick Daugherty, the executive director of Lehigh Valley Active Life
“I think the park system in Allentown is the best throughout the entire Lehigh Valley,” Daugherty said.
“It's a huge plus if you look at the number of homes that are within walking distance of the major parks in Allentown, including along Martin Luther King Drive, the Rose Garden Trexler Park.”
Carmen Bell, senior director of Healthy Aging with United Way, also weighed in on the city’s parks: “We have beautiful parks and lots of them, so there’s lots of green space.”
Adams said that in his free time, he loves to walk in Cedar Creek Park, and he’s proud of it.
“I put in a lot of steps that I wear a Fitbit," he said. "So basically in a day, I can do around 9,000 to 12,000 steps.”
City’s walkability a key issue
Asked whether parks are a perk for Adams while he considered moving to the Valley, he agreed because walking “keeps him fit.”
But Daugherty listed a few reasons Allentown should improve its walkability to make it to better place to retire.
“If you could walk somewhere instead of driving in your car, there's the benefit of health," he said. "And that includes the physical exertion.
“There's also studies that show the more you’re out in nature, the better. When you're breathing in the air, where there's trees and plants, that also has an improvement on health.”
He also stressed that walking enhances the connection between local residents.
“If you're walking, you'll probably say hello to a couple of people or get to know folks,” he said.
But how can the area work to make itself more walkable?
Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley, a regionwide initiative supported by Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, is dedicated to making Lehigh Valley a more livable and inclusive place for generations.
The initiative works to fight ageism and address issues facing older adults.
On the United Way website, a signed action plan of the initiative points out how it aims to help boost outdoor scenes for seniors in Allentown.
“Increase accessibility to the social and physical health benefits provided by parks, trails, open spaces and public buildings,” the plan says, suggesting that it will identify the key points of access to open spaces and public buildings, at the same time conducting walk audits in the Lehigh Valley.
The assessments will be used to “promote the benefits of walking as a path toward mindfulness, wellness and connectedness,” the plan says.
Additionally, Daugherty said he’s seen the city’s effort in walking service.
“The walking trail at the Rose Garden Park in Allentown specifically has exercise stations for people that are retired,” he said.
Praising a commitment to healthy living, U.S. News also points out a longtime advantage the region has enjoyed: being close to Philadelphia and New York.
“Being very close to the Poconos, Philadelphia and New York, they're an easy drive for day activities, [which] also makes this an excellent location to live,” Daugherty said.
Bell agreed, also saying the area is close to Harrisburg and New Jersey. The central location has made the city a good place to retire, she said.
Besides being close to the major metropolitan cities, the fact that Lehigh Valley cities are close to each other makes it an even better place to retire, Daugherty said.
“The music festivals in Bethlehem are a huge plus, as are the music programs in Allentown,” he said.
“So you have a lot of free outdoor concerts in Allentown and Bethlehem. And when you go to those, most of the people there are retired.”
Entertainment and leisure activities
Lehigh Valley residents are no strangers to events and activities.
“I do think the events calendar here is overwhelming,” Daugherty said. “When you look at Discover Lehigh Valley, there's so much going on throughout the Lehigh Valley every weekend.
“It's hard to even comprehend getting half the stuff. So there's a lot of things that will pull people out of their homes, and get them to meet other people.”
To Bell, retirees also have welcomed the increase in cultural and entertainment options. This can be seen on LehighValleyNews.com’s Community Calendar.
Adams, frequently visiting Lehigh Valley Active Life to meet his girlfriend and enjoy his leisure time, said he loves to play pickleball, sing karaoke and play pool.
“My girlfriend, she took a picture of me [singing], you know, behind the mic and stuff like that,” he said, laughing about how he spent time on the activities.
Group exercise, as Daugherty said, has been one of the most popular programs local senior residents are participating in, especially pickleball.
“I've seen local governments, including our town, being very receptive to how the sport of pickleball has taken," he said. "It is extremely popular. And you know, what you see is tennis courts now becoming pickleball courts.
“To me, [this] is an example of how this generation is so much more interested in physical fitness and staying active and continuing to push [themselves] into retirement than prior generations are.
"And Allentown is a great place where that could happen.”
‘I don’t regret moving in’
Asked to answer how he feels about the racial diversity in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, Adams recalled being the only black singer in Cedar Church.
“My response to that was listen, you only came here to worship, and then came here to sing," he said. "Come on, give it a shot.
Talking about the moment he moved to the area, Adams said, “I'll be honest with you, I said, 'Well, look, a lot of white folks down here.
“When I first went into Giant in Trexlertown, I felt kind of nervous. I had some sort of relief when I saw a few Black [people from] past years in the store. I have overcome that. And you know, people are pretty nice.”
Adams said his tip is to say 'Hi' and always greet people with smiles, and he said people have responded kindly to him.
“Our diversity is increasing, especially here in Lehigh County [though] there is some disparity in access to health care and food and quality education.”Carmen Bell, senior director of Healthy Aging with United Way
According to a report released by Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley, the racial makeup of the Lehigh Valley is more than 70% white, 6.8% Black and 3.5% Asian.
But in Allentown, nearly 55% of the population is Hispanic while the Black population makes up about 14%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Our diversity is increasing, especially here in Lehigh County [though] there is some disparity in access to health care and food and quality education,” Bell said.
At the end of the interview, when asked if he’s satisfied with his retirement in the Valley and Allentown, Adams said, “I don't regret moving in, you know, I enjoy being here.”