There is much warranted discussion concerning affordable housing in Lancaster and the challenges of ensuring a city in which everyone, regardless of income level, can choose to live.
Lancaster is experiencing extraordinary investment. And while this includes significant residential development, of the almost 750 new units (rental and for sale) recently completed, under construction or planned, currently less than 20 percent are considered affordable.
Residential development is expensive and the influx of pricier product is as much a result of the cost of construction as it is the return on investment.
Most developers support affordable and mixed-income products, but that cannot be achieved without subsidy, and programs designed specifically for affordable housing are extremely competitive.
So how do we move the needle?
Support those doing great work
When we talk about new housing in the city, the focus is usually on larger projects happening downtown. These developments are not displacing existing residents, but this new product is building the market.
With that said, it is important to support the organizations that are quietly securing affordable housing throughout the city. Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, Spanish American Civic Association, IMPACT Missions, Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, the city’s Redevelopment Authority, Community Basics, Habitat for Humanity and others in partnership with the city and private sector are doing significant work with existing housing stock and new construction.
In true Lancaster fashion, these stakeholders are collaborating with the goal of sustaining our neighborhoods. A great example is Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership’s Local Housing Investment Fund & Trust Program.
In the past two years alone, the program’s financing provided to many of the partners listed above allowed for the rehabilitation of 36 units. In that time, the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership assisted 77 families to purchase their first city home, many of which were developed by the Spanish American Civic Association and Habitat for Humanity, to name a few.
Being a city of the third class in Pennsylvania and with its inherent restrictions, Lancaster is limited primarily to property taxes to raise revenue. This makes it difficult to support affordable housing without increasing taxes.
With that said, the city is creating new tools, including a Land Bank Authority focusing on acquiring neglected housing to be rehabilitated while remaining affordable, and the evaluation of a tax abatement program that, with the support of the school district and the county, can incentivize affordable units by offering tax credits on property improvements.
We also must support reforms reducing the tax burden on our property owners, as increased property values should be desired, and not dreaded, because of increased taxes.
Broaden the conversation
Just as affordable housing should not be concentrated in one area of the city, this should be a countywide discussion. People deserve choices of where to live. With many of the job centers growing in the county, so should housing options.
We also cannot continue the housing affordability conversation without discussing workforce development and promoting livable wages.
Supporting the work of our education, training institutions and private sector partners to elevate our residents is key. With over 7,000 open, well-paying positions throughout the county, there are great opportunities for unemployed and underemployed citizens. We can’t choose one conversation or the other; it must be both.
The growth of Lancaster should be celebrated. Since 2015, over $660 million in projects have been completed or are under construction or planned throughout the city. With over $450 million of that occurring outside the core downtown, we must still ensure that everyone benefits from this investment.
We are blessed to have a community of truly concerned stakeholders from all sectors. Let’s continue to collaborate for the greater good for Lancaster.
• Marshall Snively is president of Lancaster City Alliance.