Members of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) Thursday evening heard the findings of a Lehigh Valley housing study labeled by Becky Bradley, executive director of the LVPC, as "the most in-depth study of the region's housing ever."

The study was conducted by the Alexandria, VA office of RKG Associates, a planning and research firm headquartered out of Dover, NH. It includes key findings, housing priorities, goals, opportunities, and implementation strategies.

Funding for the study was provided by the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Grant, noted Bradley.

The key findings include:

According to the Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors, young home buyers between ages 28 to 35 do not have the necessary 20 percent down payment to initiate a mortgage, therefore they either defer home ownership or move to a region where starter homes are more affordable.

Over the past 30 years, the region's townships and boroughs have experienced seven times the population growth of the Valley's three cities; however, recent findings indicate an increase in city population growth.

Between 2000 and 2010, Allentown added 11,400 people at an 11 percent growth rate, making it the fastest growing city in the state during that decade.

From 2010 to 2040, Lehigh and Northampton counties are expected to grow in population by an additional 35 percent which will make housing a primary focus.

The Lehigh Valley's population is becoming more racially diverse with, for example, a steadily rising Hispanic population. In addition, one person households are also on the rise which will affect the housing market.

At $44,826 Lehigh Valley wages are five percent lower than the state average of $47,035. These lower wages result in residents being "cost burdened" by housing.

Sixty-three percent of Valley residents work in the Valley while 36 percent work outside the area.

However, only 3.6 percent of workers from nearby states commute here to work while the percentage of Pennsylvanians commuting to New York or New Jersey to work is sharply higher.

Rent prices are up an average of 13 percent in Lehigh and Northampton counties since 2000; however, compared to rent and home prices in nearby major metropolitan areas, housing prices in the Lehigh Valley are relatively low.
In the area's townships, 85 percent of residents own their homes.

Home ownership for white households is 74.2 percent, while 41.2 percent of African-Americans own their homes, and Hispanics have a 39.6 percent home ownership rate.

Home ownership rates in the Valley for age 44 and under have declined, and rates for ages 45 to 64 have increased.

The percentage of low income homeowners and renters that were cost burdened between 2000 and 2010 increased an average of 10 to 15 percent in each of the two lowest income levels for both renters and homeowners.

Higher earning households are spending less than 30 percent of their gross incomes on housing as a tradeoff with the costs of a long commute to work outside of the Valley.

However, the study concluded relieving the downward pressure by building the higher quantities of expensive housing will not solve the pricing problem at the lower end.

Less than 80,000 of employed people in the region (21 percent) work in an occupation that is above the Lehigh Valley average median income (AMI).

Where there are jobs, there is a lack of affordable housing especially for lower income workers forcing them to undertake longer commutes to work.

Housing opportunities are not as clustered as job opportunities and along mass transit routes there should be a mix of housing types, prices, and sized to match demand.

The study also outlined the following housing priorities that require the attention of Lehigh Valley planners and officials.

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

The lack of choice within the income thresholds compounds the challenges to finding suitable housing.

The demand for modestly priced housing is universal throughout the region.