Bethlehem brainstorms strategies to address 'housing crisis' | Lehigh … – 69News WFMZ-TV

A warm and dry evening, then becoming mostly cloudy later tonight with some patchy drizzle late..
A warm and dry evening, then becoming mostly cloudy later tonight with some patchy drizzle late.
Updated: April 4, 2023 @ 5:35 pm Reporter
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The City of Bethlehem held its second meeting about the housing market and affordable housing studies on Tuesday night at city hall.
The address, provided to Bethlehem City Council’s Community Development Committee, focused on affordable housing strategies to address what the city says is a “housing crisis.”
Priorities include maintaining existing affordable housing units, addressing housing for the most vulnerable, the building of more affordable housing units, addressing regional housing needs and building “capacity and momentum” for development.
“Our goal is to have a comprehensive and sophisticated and most effective plan come out of this,” Laura Collins, director of community and economic development, said. “…There are really two considerations moving forward. One is what works here…and then also what are the tradeoffs we’re making.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Sara Satullo, deputy director of community development, told the committee that everything they would see was for informational purposes.
“We haven’t reached a point where we are prioritizing any strategies or gotten into the nitty-gritty of what is going to work best in Bethlehem,” Satullo said. She added that the work was “difficult” if “you are trying to do it right,” and that it was important at this stage for the city to consider various options to find the best result.
The city hired the firms of Reinvestment FundAtria Planning and COLLABO to produce a housing study. Rebecca Rothenberg, a consultant with Atria Planning, listed general strategies Tuesday night.
“We are trying to develop a set of tools for strategies that are based on the needs, and factor in political, social and economic factors that influence what can and can’t be successful,” Rothenberg said. “We also want to maximize the resources the city has by hopefully leveraging as much as possible.”
Rothenberg noted potential public-private partnerships, such as the housing authority, major employers such as hospitals and universities or foundations. Those partnerships, she said, could be “soft,” such as supportive services or neighborhood investment, or “direct,” such as with developers.
Affordable housing ventures are typically done with housing authorities due to their access to government money. This includes Section 8 housing vouchers, although landlords often receive the agencies’ fair market value rate which is less than a unit’s market rate.
“There are hundreds of vouchers not being used because they can’t find any landlords to rent at that rate,” Rothenberg said.
Housing authorities could address this problem by building “directly,” she said.
Another option is a subsidy voucher, which is attached to the unit itself.
“It’s a way to finance new development,” Rothenberg said.
She also suggested the city could have a fund to incentivize landlords and developers as a short-term solution.
A long-term strategy would provide incentives to attract developers to build affordable housing. The city would then have more control over the development itself.
“You can require more collaboration with the community, more design review,” Rothenberg said. “You can also include requirements for parks and landscaping.”
Other options included “tiny home communities” and the accessory dwelling unit model, which permits a small, secondary home to be added to a residential lot.
Tuesday night’s meeting was the second on the topic. The first was held Feb. 8. City officials indicated they will finalize their affordable housing strategies by May, and present their plans in June.
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Bethlehem’s Southside has changed since the Bethlehem Steel Corp. era, and land use should change too, according to a city memo that supports making way for 240 apartments. Reporter
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