One nonprofit developer is helping to point out the need for quality, affordable housing in the Lehigh Valley.
Affordable housing is for those who are low income and either at or below the poverty line. More often than not, it’s for working people who have been laid off or just don’t make enough to afford average rents – let alone buy a house.
The stigma of affordable housing – that it attracts crime or fosters laziness – is something some developers are willing to thwart. They believe a market exists and the need for this housing is real and has grown.
Judging by the interest, it appears the market is a good fit. So far, more than 500 people applied for units, said Jolene Weaver, spokeswoman for Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, a nonprofit based in Lancaster that is building South Side Lofts: 46 units of affordable housing in South Side Bethlehem.
The company is looking to finish this fall, with a ribbon cutting planned Oct. 28.
The $11 million project will boost the city’s economy by adding residents, mainly artists, who could walk to nearby restaurants, establishments and destinations such as the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Lehigh University, Sands Bethlehem Casino and The Banana Factory.
It’s an artist-preference affordable housing community open to any type of artist, including musicians, dancers, poets, jewelry-makers and other creative types.
“This is our first project in the Lehigh Valley and our first artist community,” Weaver said as she led a tour of the two sites.
One apartment site covers a vacant church site at 419-429 Hayes St., and a second is at a brownfield site at 420-424 Atlantic St., a block away.
The company adaptively reused the 100-year-old church on Hayes Street and demolished the adjacent rectory to build a new apartment site. At the Atlantic Street location, the company razed two blighted buildings to build apartments.
Furthermore, by making these developments higher quality and including elements such as geothermal ground-source heating and cooling devices, solar voltaic rays on the roofs, light-emitting diode lighting and security cameras, it elevates the image of affordable housing.
Already, the project transformed two blocks into a vibrant reuse. As these properties turn around, it could spur redevelopment in other areas of the neighborhood.
HDC Mid-Atlantic also is looking at other sites in the Lehigh Valley, particularly urban locations where affordable housing is needed.
A diverse housing stock helps build stronger, more vibrant communities, giving people the ability to boost their earning potential if given the opportunity for an affordable rent.
As Weaver noted, the rental agreements are good for a year. After then, applicants can renew their leases, but also have to prove their earnings with income statements. If what they earn exceeds the maximum, they are ineligible to rent an apartment.
So it offers the opportunity for movement and upward mobility, particularly if the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone is effective in building additional business opportunities in retail, office or even manufacturing in the coming years – all well within walking distance in South Side Bethlehem.
Affordable housing is a way to make the community, and the economy, that much stronger.