Thinking Regionally About Affordable Housing
The 2nd Annual Lehigh Valley Housing Summit took place this morning at the Holiday Inn in downtown Allentown, attended by more than 200 people. Congratulations to the lead organizers–Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, and Lehigh and Northampton Counties–as well as to the many sponsors on a great event that was jammed with information.
Panelists touched on topics ranging from financing strategies for affordable housing to market trends to the impact of blight. The Brookings Institution’s Anthony Downs, an internationally recognized authority on smart growth and housing, discussed possible strategies that the Lehigh Valley could take to meet its affordable-housing needs.
Downs applauded the work that has already been done in the Lehigh Valley, just in the past year. He identified the creation of (and the county funding for) a regional affordable housing coordinator position as an important step. He also noted that the creation of a Lehigh Valley Community Land Trust (which has officially incorporated and is now seeking nonprofit status) as an effective strategy and underscored that the Lehigh Valley is one of only a handful of regions nationally to have taken this step.
These important kinds of progress, Downs said, shows that the Lehigh Valley has gotten serious about taking on the challenge of creating affordable housing–and that this is essential. “Developing affordable housing involves sustained effort over the long term, in the face of serious opposition.”
According to Downs, the key in the end is putting in place policies that can lead to a balanced approach to housing–that is, communities that provide a mix of housing types and, in turn, promote mixed-income communities. This means ensuring that communities have housing options that are within reach of public-sector workers (teachers, firefighters, police officers), service-industry workers, and entry-level professionals.
A promising potential strategy highlighted by Downs is inclusionary zoning, where communities require that private developers set aside a certain proportion of units in a new project as affordable (i.e., below-market-rate) units. On this point, Downs again emphasized the value of thinking at a regional level. Inclusionary zoning policies, he stated, need to be enacted at the county or regional level. If only adopted by certain municipalities, such policies are ineffective, since developers can simply seek out municipalities–within a given regional market–that aren’t requiring affordable housing allotments in new projects.
RenewLV continues to work on advancing the principle of regional collaboration on the key issues (including land-use and planning) that affect how the Lehigh Valley develops. To learn more about this work, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our email list.