Emigh Allison witnesses the plight of citizens grappling with the scarcity of affordable housing daily. As a case manager for external programs at the Easton Area Neighborhood Center, Allison assists around 100 residents at The Mill at Easton, an affordable housing project that opened last summer.

The $18 million project, which broke ground in September 2020, was a public-private initiative praised by former Gov. Tom Wolf. Local officials hope that it could serve as an inspiration for more such collaborations, leading to an increase in affordable housing units. In Easton, U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia L. Fudge has praised local efforts but also lamented the inadequate national response to the housing crisis. Local officials recognize that the complex problem of low-cost housing requires thoughtful solutions, which won’t be achieved quickly or easily.

Bethlehem’s Housing Issue: An Expensive Problem

Bethlehem is grappling with its own affordable housing crisis, as median home prices and homelessness rates have risen dramatically. Officials estimate it would take $50 million annually to ensure affordable housing for all city residents. The city has allocated $5 million in American Rescue Plan funds for low-cost housing in 2023, but this barely scratches the surface of the issue. Private sector interests often prioritize profit over affordability, leading to missed opportunities to develop affordable housing.

Allentown’s Struggle with Gentrification and Rising Rent

In Allentown, rapid urban development has resulted in increased rents and displacement of vulnerable citizens. City officials believe the introduction of more market-rate housing options will alleviate the demand and incentivize affordable housing. However, some argue that new housing units incentivize landlords to raise rents, putting an increasing strain on longtime residents. The city’s most vulnerable struggle to find affordable accommodation and often resort to shelters, temporary housing, or relocation to more affordable areas.

Robbie Matthews, director of Allentown’s Sixth Street Shelter, believes landlords, nonprofits, and the city need to collaborate better to address the housing needs of those most vulnerable.

Proposed Solutions and Long-Term Strategies

City officials and advocates propose various solutions, such as inclusionary zoning, which mandates developers to price a certain percentage of units at affordable rates and stronger protections for people facing evictions. However, long-term change requires systemic alterations and a concerted commitment to making affordable housing a priority. Implementing innovative solutions, maintaining cooperation between stakeholders, and a proactive local government can pave the way for a more inclusive housing landscape.

Beneficiaries of Affordable Housing in Easton

Residents like Crystal Mitchell and Peter H. Raelian, who now live in Easton’s Mill development, testify to the positive impact of affordable housing initiatives. They consider themselves fortunate to have found a place they can afford and call home. Their experiences underline the significance of housing affordability efforts, inspiring hope for those grappling with housing insecurity, and a reminder of the necessity for community-focused solutions.