Lehigh Valley

Public input sought on new LV regional housing plan

HANOVER TWP., Pa. - Beginning Friday, you can read -- and offer your comments on -- a new regional housing plan for the Lehigh Valley.

The plan is being created by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission to serve as a guide for future residential development in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

"This is the most comprehensive housing assessment that has ever been done in the Lehigh Valley," said Becky Bradley, LVPC's executive director.

A final draft of the 258-page document was distributed to the commission board Thursday night and has been posted on LVPC's website:

A 30-day public review period on the draft comprehensive plan begins Friday.

Bradley said people are encouraged to email their feedback about the plan to LVPC.

She may even add a comments box right on the website.

She added people also can mail their comments or call LVPC.

At the end of the 30 days, said Bradley, as many of those comments as possible will be incorporated into the plan.

She indicated the LVPC board will take action on approving the comprehensive plan at its Sept. 25 meeting.

She said LVPC's staff has been working on the plan for about a year-and-a-half, along with RKG Associates, its consultant on the project.

"It's a really solid document," Bradley told her board. "We're pretty proud of it."

"It is a very impressive piece of work," said Atty. Kent Herman, chairman of the LVPC board.

The plan should become a valuable tool for the 62 municipalities and
17 school districts in the two counties, as well as for developers, investors, Realtors and non-profit organizations working to provide housing.

"They've actually been waiting for this -- and have been for awhile," said Bradley.

Key findings in the plan:

• There is an imbalance between household incomes and the price of housing in the Lehigh Valley.

• A lack of choices at both ends of the income spectrum compounds the
challenges to find suitable housing.

• Housing rehabilitation is as great a need as housing development.

• Developers of affordable housing lack sufficient capacity to meet the Lehigh Valley's need for low and moderate income housing.

There is a "profound unmet demand" for affordable housing for low-income residents, said Eric McAfee, LVPC's community planning director. He added many of those people "are buying or renting at a level that is beyond their capacity to afford."

The plan looks at housing affordability "across all incomes" and examines the proximity of jobs and "housing affordable for those jobs."

It includes five goals for the future of housing in the Lehigh Valley:

• Provide housing in a wide choice of locations to maximize social and
economic opportunities for everyone.

• Provide an adequate supply of affordable housing to meet the needs
of all income and social groups.

• Promote and maintain suitable living environments and housing.

• Promote the orderly development of new, well-planned residential environments.

• Create an overarching consortium of housing interests to enhance
regional coordination and effectiveness.

The plan shows that more than 70 percent of residents own their homes, while nearly 30 percent rent.

A racial breakdown shows more than 74 percent of whites own homes, while homes are rented by nearly 59 percent of blacks/African Americans and more than 60 percent of Hispanics/Latinos.

"Some people might not like the data that was found – in fact, I think some of the comments we'll get will be around that, because housing is always an emotional issue," said Bradley.

Elaborating later, she said housing is an emotional issue because "it affects everybody. It's something we all need, just like food, water and clothes.

"Because of that, people sometimes will react emotionally to data."

For example, she said data offering comparisons of housing costs in different school districts could spark some controversy.

"The truth is the truth and, it sounds so cliché, but the numbers don't lie," said Bradley.

She also said the housing plan contains "tons of juicy tidbits."

Some of those tidbits were shared by McAfee at the meeting:

• Home ownership rates are declining for people who are 44 and younger.

• Many potential home buyers between the ages of 28 and 35 lack the necessary 20 percent down payment to initiate a mortgage.

• Thirty-two percent of local households are not families; most of those are people who live alone.

• Sixty-four percent of Lehigh Valley residents also work in the Lehigh Valley.

• Single-family dwellings remain the most popular housing type, comprising nearly 76 percent of total housing.

"There literally are charts and tables in here that tell you if you make X amount of dollars, this is where you can afford to live without being stressed," said Bradley.

If you dig deeply enough into the document, she said you'll learn "we have a surplus of housing for teachers, but we have shortages of housing for police."

As the regional housing plan was discussed at the LVPC meeting, Bradley warned the board: "This isn't something you're going to read in one sitting.

"It's going to take you awhile to get through it all."

But she noted the draft is 100 pages shorter than an earlier version.

"We're hoping you'll have a chance to read it over the next month and comment on it."

Air show exhibit

LVPC will be seeking public opinions on a different regional issue – transportation ---during the Aug. 23 and 24 Lehigh Valley Air Show at Lehigh Valley International Airport.

An LVPC exhibit designed to resemble a sidewalk café will be in the static display area at the air show.

On a wall of that exhibit, air show spectators will write how they envision their transportation future.

Bradley said the exhibit is one of the new ways LVPC is seeking to engage the public.

She said everyone who participates will be given a little button, which should help draw more people to the exhibit. She noted 30,000 people are expected at the air show.

She explained comments collected at the air show will be used to add much more "texture and depth" to LVPC's long-range transportation plan, "which right now reads more like a financial management document than a vision for our transportation future."

Zoning classes

LVPC is offering educational courses on "Zoning: Up Close & Personal" and "Subdivision Review: The Ins and Outs."

The one-night courses, which are open to the public, are tailored for "municipal zoning hearing board and planning commission members, elected officials, municipal engineers, municipal planners and others who deal with zoning ordinances."

The zoning course will be offered on Sept. 9, 16 and 23.

The subdivision course will be offered Oct. 15, 22 and 29.

Each course costs $100, but you can attend both for $190.

Pre-registration is necessary. For details, call LVPC at 610-264-4544.

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