Lehigh Valley

New low-income rental homes eyed for Easton's South Side

Council woman fears home values will suffer.

EASTON, Pa. - The Easton planning commission Wednesday night gave preliminary approval to a proposed low-income rental housing project in Easton's South Side, a $2.5 million plan that includes the demolition of a warehouse on East St. Joseph St.

If the project wins final approval from the city's Zoning Hearing Board, the plans to build five separate, twin homes will begin in the fall with the demolition of the old warehouse at 222 E. St. Joseph St.

The Housing Authority owns the building and uses it as a maintenance facility.

Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be used to build the five double homes, said Gene Pambianchi, the authority's executive director.

The funds are earmarked to help find affordable housing in areas where rundown public housing projects have been razed, such as Easton's old Delaware Terrace.

Two South Side residents, Pat and Sandra Volcano, said they were against the plan because they feared the rental properties would devalue homes in the neighborhood, some of which they described as prime locations.

Sandra Volcano, who is a member of Easton City Council, said she feared the housing authority would manage the new rentals as "badly as they did when they managed Delaware Terrace before it was torn down."

Volcano pointed out the housing authority managed the former Delaware Terrace, a collection of barracks-style apartments that attracted shootings and drugs.

The new public housing there now, called Neston Heights, is a $73 million project that is managed by an outside firm, not the housing authority.

About 187 affordable housing units were lost when Delaware Terrace was demolished, and there is stiff competition for low-income housing; the waiting list is 700 families long.

The new units, which will not make much of a dent in the waiting list, are expected to open next summer.

Potential tenants will be required to demonstrate they have a job with at least 30 hours a week income, pass a criminal background check and have references, among other things.

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