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'Affordable housing is a human right': Rep. Wild, Bethlehem nonprofit discuss market dynamics

Dawn Godshall
Will Oliver
Dawn Godshall, executive director of Community Action Lehigh Valley, addresses the largest-ever Annual Meeting of the nonprofit.

  • Tackling the Lehigh Valley's housing crisis will require a 'multi-pronged approach,' officials said Wednesday
  • Officials plan to seek out measures for more rent control, broader tenant protections, higher wages and more
  • Community Action Lehigh Valley held its Annual Meeting with its largest-ever attendance

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Officials at Community Action Lehigh Valley’s largest-ever annual meeting on Wednesday agreed that addressing the Lehigh Valley’s housing crisis would require a “multi-pronged approach.”

This would consist of supporting higher wages, increasing the housing supply, exploring rent control measures, strengthening tenant protections, promoting mixed-income developments and establishing community land trusts, according to CALV Executive Director Dawn Godshall.

But to make it a reality, policymakers, developers, nonprofits and the community at large would all need to be on board, she said.

The meeting's theme? "Affordable housing is a human right."

CALV is an anti-poverty nonprofit that aims to improve the area’s quality of life by building sustainable communities, increasing economic opportunities, as well as offering programs in resident advocacy, business development, food access and neighborhood revitalization.

Demand exceeding supply

Godshall reminded the 400 or so people in attendance that “truly affordable” housing should make up no more than 30% of a household’s income. And the community is in trying times since the housing demand is currently exceeding the supply.

A “cycle of poverty” is perpetuated when housing costs offer little wiggle room in family budgets for other necessary expenses like health care and education, Godshall said.

“Affordable housing is more than just a catchphrase. It’s a vital cornerstone of a thriving community.”
Community Action Lehigh Valley Executive Director Dawn Godshall

“Affordable housing is more than just a catchphrase,” Godshall said. “It’s a vital cornerstone of a thriving community.”

She referenced a statistic from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission that shows renters make up around 86,000, or one in three, households in the Lehigh Valley.

Census data shows that over half of the area’s renters are paying more than 30% of their income for a place to live. LVPC data from 2020 lists 192,000 Lehigh Valley residents are living in housing that’s unaffordable.

‘A drop in the bucket’

Louis Cinquino, CALV Board president, looked out to the audience and thanked them for their individual contributions to the cause. He said those efforts will multiply to a greater effect with time.

“Each one of those drops makes a difference to the people that we are working with and the families that we touch with our world,” Cinquino said. “And over time, and together, those drops will fill those buckets.

“And we believe [those] can create rivers of hope and oceans of opportunity for every family here in the Lehigh Valley, the Slate Belt and all our surrounding communities.”

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, said that once someone has somewhere to live, it becomes a whole lot easier to focus on other important things like one’s health, children and more.

“There is not much that you can do in life to get ahead if you do not have a safe and secure roof over your head.”
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley

“I truly believe … that affordable housing is a human right,” Wild said. “There is not much that you can do in life to get ahead if you do not have a safe and secure roof over your head.”

She said the Lehigh Valley is the fastest growing region in the state and for good reason, considering the job opportunities and more.

But as waves of people come here for their new jobs, what happens to the housing situation? It gets amplified and affects the living situations of those who’ve been living for some time, Wild said.

“I think it’s wonderful that we are thriving economically — or at least at the business level here in the Lehigh Valley — but now we’ve got to do the corresponding piece of that,” Wild said. “ … And we have to do more to make sure that middle income folks are able to become homeowners in the communities that they work in.”

Other highlights from the CALV Annual Report

CALV’s Annual Report listed the following and more in its 2022-2023 overview:

  • Sold three completed, rehabilitated homes to low-income buyers, including one in South Bethlehem, one in Allentown and another in Bangor
  • Managed renovations of three homes expected to sell, including two in Slatington and one in South Bethlehem
  • Coordination rehabilitation of 42 low-income households in both Lehigh and Northampton counties
  • Launched its Whole-Home Repair Program with a $2.7 million allocation, targeting low-income homeowners in need of home improvements and workforce development
  • 45 families that utilized the program’s Housing Counseling Program have purchased their first homes
  • 42% of the families utilizing services at the Sixth Street Shelter have moved into safe and stable housing