Housing and Declining Populations
In this section of the Revitalizing Older Cities series, the attention turns to housing in the Lehigh Valley.
Much like the rest of Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley has seen a steady population decline in its cities and older boroughs over the last few years. The Northeast Midwest Institute, via the Revitalizing Older Cities Initiative, has noted that this pattern of population decline is common in former industrial and manufacturing cities. This decline gives way to an overstock of housing that can easily turn into blight. Most worrisome, the declining population has resulted in a stagnant tax base, forcing the older communities to raise taxes, which discourages new residents from considering residency in the cities. The most telling evidence of this comes from the Profile on the Lehigh Valley compiled by the Brookings Institute as part of its Back to Prosperity study, in which it was revealed that the Lehigh Valley’s outer townships added over 34,000 residents, while the cities only gained about 1,400 in the 1990s. Housing permits continue to be issued in second-class townships at a rapid rate, when plenty of housing exists within the older communities.
So what is the solution for encouraging people to buy homes in the older cities? It may just be redevelopment campaigns, much like the one being waged in Allentown through the Seventh Street Development Committee. Some of the committee’s most visible work can be seen walking down Allentown’s Seventh Street, where many businesses have received facade grants to remodel restaurant and store fronts. Seen below is Casa Latina, a lauded local Dominican and Puerto Rican eatery, and a recipient of a facade grant:
Such initiatives aim to revitalize neighborhoods through beautification campaigns, with the hope of bringing in more business and new customers. In turn, this encourages people to move into the neighborhood.
Business redevelopment efforts are just one part of the effort to bring more residents into the cities. Campaigns to revitalize blighted property, along with mortgage counseling and work incentives are also crucial to battling the declining residency within the older communities. The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley has been a champion for the economically challenged neighborhoods, by providing home-ownership guidance programs to many of the residents of the Valley’s three cities. And the City of Easton recently announced a new program that would provide $7,000 to Easton police officers who buy a house in the city. Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said that he hopes the program will “appeal to new officers coming to the Easton area as first-time homebuyers.” The full story on the Easton City Council approval for the program can be found on the Morning Call website.
Revitalizing cities requires the collaboration of many different entities. The various efforts to combat housing problems within the Lehigh Valley are exemplary of this approach. All of these concerns, and more, will be covered in the upcoming Annual Lehigh Valley Housing Summit on Thursday, September 24, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in downtown Allentown. Visit the CACLV site for more information about the event. And make sure to keep up to date on all news related to housing in the Lehigh Valley’s cities by visiting RenewLV’s Join Us page and clicking the box next to Housing before submitting your information.