New studies show depth of Bethlehem's housing crisis
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Bethlehem is facing a dire shortage of housing which is driving soaring prices, consultants for the city have told a City Council committee.
During a Tuesday meeting of City Council’s Community Development Committee, consultants laid out their assessment of Bethlehem’s housing needs and market.
- Bethlehem city officials and their consultants presented the results of studies of the housing market at a Community Development Committee meeting Tuesday
- Consultants found low supply and soaring prices, making housing harder to afford
- The assessments of the housing market and its needs are part of the process to develop a strategy for more affordable housing in the city
“Everyone in this room already knows and understands that the housing crisis is hitting Bethlehem hard,” Janine Santoro, the city’s director of Equity and Inclusion, said.
“The question is only what is the best way for us to use the resources we have to start making a dent in this problem.”
The studies released Tuesday, developed by consulting firms Atria Planning, Reinvestment Fund and Collabo, moves the city toward a comprehensive plan for more affordable housing, due in late Spring. Another update on the process is scheduled for early March.
“We need more affordable housing, point blank,” said Rebecca Rothenberg, a consultant with Atria Planning working with the city. “The purpose of the study and this plan is not necessarily to fix the problem, but figure out how to maximize resources that are available to address it as best we can.”
As part of the process of developing a comprehensive plan to make affordable housing more available, city officials commissioned studies of the housing market’s strengths and weaknesses.
Consultants found that less than 2% of Bethlehem’s rentals are vacant on average — “which is crisis mode,” Rothenberg said.
“Most of those units in that 2% aren't actually listed for rent — they have either already been rented and are in a transition period, or they're being fixed up.”
“Everyone in this room already knows and understands that the housing crisis is hitting Bethlehem hard. The question is only what is the best way for us to use the resources we have to start making a dent in this problem.”Janine Santoro, Bethlehem's director of Equity and Inclusion
Meanwhile, “naturally affordable” units priced below $1,000 per month without subsidies or other interventions have mostly disappeared.
“There's virtually no units priced less than $1,000, and there's a severe shortage of housing even at rental units priced $1,500 to about $2,000,” Rothenberg said.
Households making less than 80% of the city’s median income cannot generally afford to buy housing anywhere in Bethlehem, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
Renters in the same income bracket are all but shut out from the rental market without finding roommates or spending more than a third of their income on housing, according to the presentation.
Nearly a third of the city’s households are facing challenges affording their housing. In parts of the city where incomes are low but housing prices are soaring, residents are at risk of being displaced.
With the assessments complete, city officials and their consultants will now develop specific strategies for expanding affordable housing, and present them at another Community Development Committee meeting March 7.