“Thank you,” Mr. Antalics, “for always keeping us on track.”

(Latest post on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside, Affordable Housing)

Heard on Jeopardy last night: “What Bethlehem resident wants the definition of family as five unrelated persons changed in order to stifle the negative effect of student housing on the Southside?”

Just kidding.

But everybody who follows the Gadfly knows the answer to that question.

Stephen Antalics.

Gadfly #1.

And he is not kidding.

This man has wit and whimsy, for sure, but at Council he is all business.

He’s a Southside warrior.

At Council Tuesday night Stephen challenged the “silence of the lambs” once more.

Classic gadflyism. A model for us all. Listen.

For once, Stephen’s words did not go unanswered.

The 11 o’clock news could well have led off with a fiery segment on the fired-up Congressman Callahan to which I have strongly urged you to listen.

That’s where the sensationalistic headlines would be.

But the precious jewel of the meeting was the easily overlooked — wedged as it was between Callahan fusillades — barely three minutes of Councilwoman Negron in response to Stephen.

Councilwoman Negron’s soft demeanor bespeaks her sincerity and belies her strength.

“Like [Mr. Antalics], the Southside issue is dear to my heart,” she said, recounting the consequence of listening to residents about affordable housing at a meeting of the Southside Vision Housing Committee:

  • “I couldn’t even sleep last night because I was so upset, especially because I heard the urgency in which they were speaking.”
  • “I am not going to go anywhere till something is done, or that will be my end on City Council because there is no purpose if that cannot be changed.”
  • “I just want to assure you [Mr. Antalics] that just because we are not talking about it every night as you have, and you have the right, and I’m glad you have, we are working on it.”
  • “The only reason I was glad to read the[South Bethlehem Historical Society] letter was to realize that I am not crazy or that I am just whining about something dearest to my heart.”
  • “So housing is getting to be a big distress on the Southside, and we are looking to make some changes in the near future.”
  • “Thank you for always keeping us on track.”

Beautiful.

Gadfly has sensed some momentum on the housing issue since that SBHS letter, some tide-turning, though, of course, there are such prior currents as that generated by Southside Vision that he was not aware of.

“We are working on it.” “We are looking to make some changes.”

Action.

“I am not going to go anywhere till something is done.”

Resolve.

Passage of the “Antalics Amendment” is playing on Gadfly’s mind-screen.

And — he knows it’s early — but Gadfly’s mind has been drifting ahead to the mayoral race.

A strong program to improve affordable housing will need the executive’s power.

And will take longer than Mayor Donchez’s term.

There were probable candidates for mayor in the room Tuesday night, and more watching on television. Gadfly thinks this is a cause the next mayor must take up.

Not too early for people to be thinkin’!

Thank you, Mr. Antalics, for always keeping us on track.

Thank you, Councilwoman Negron, for saying thanks.

Temptation

(Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing)

Gadfly is facing the downsizing dilemma.

Gadfly is facing the downsizing doldrums.

Gadfly is facing the downsizing decision.

He has recently told you that his neighborhood is changing, that student rentals are increasing.

He has a five-bedroom house, wonderful for raising a brood of “Irish sextuplets” (6 boys in 9 years).

A developer would not have to spend a penny in rehabbing.

Kim Carrell-Smith recently pointed out in another post that we should read again that houses in the First Terrace section on the Southside sold for the “extraordinary sum” of an average of $240,000 each: “housing prices are going nuts”!

Gadfly paid $13,500 for his house a thousand years ago.

He could now make a fortune.

A house on his hum-drum, routine, middle-class, nothing-special block sold for just shy of $200,000.

Seriously.

The temptation is to sell and hang the “out to lunch” sign on Gadfly.

Feathering his own nest (so to speak).

Apres moi, le deluge!

Gadfly needs an intervention.

“Someone needs to explain to us why 5”

(Latest post on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside, Affordable Housing)

At the last City Council meeting the indefatigable Gadfly #1 — Stephen Antalics — did his “thing” (as we used to say) on the definition of “family” again, the definition that permits developers to load 5 students into a house.

Gadfly sardonically remarked that Stephen is like the Flying Dutchman — the legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever — on this issue.

El primo Gadfly raised this issue at least as early as 2012, and this Gadfly has heard him raise it at least a half-dozen times in his Council attendances in the last 18 months.

“After extensive research into the matter,” said the Ur-Gadfly, “Bethlehem may be the only college community in the state allowing five unrelated students to be classified as a family.”

Which is why we are so appealing to developers.

“The key to good community is the single family.”

No denying that.

“Someone needs to explain to us why 5.”

No denying that.

“It becomes incumbent upon you on Council to get an answer for us.”

Lay it on, Stephen.

“What’s happening is contrary to the welfare of the Southside.”

No denying that.

“Can you help us to get an answer?”

Aiii, here’s the rub.

Now the solution to affordable housing etc. on the Southside may be more complicated than Stephen says.

Gadfly refers you to the recent post by the wise Anna Smith, a post that should be read again for sure.

That’s not the point on which Gadfly would like to focus here (forcing himself, Tony, to avoid ending with a preposition!).

The point on which Gadfly would like to focus is communication — two-way communication.

There seems to be no mechanism to receive answers to questions.

Gadfly has posed some questions in regard to the Polk Street Garage that will not be answered.

There seems to be no mechanism to receive answers to questions.

Stephen’s “Someone needs to explain to us why 5” will hang in the air endlessly.

Gadfly feels a modest proposal coming on.

Porch thoughts

(Latest post in the series on City Government and affordable housing)

It is a stunningly beautiful day on the porch in Gadfly’s backyard.

Preternaturally quiet.

Next-door neighbors gone for the week. Student renters gone for the weekend.

Just Gadfly. And the birds. And the butterflies. And an occasional lantern fly.

So quiet he can hear the wasps (is that what they are?) drinking from the birdbath.

Great thinking time.

Two thoughts came to mind:

1) A memory of Seth Moglen enunciating a call to action from the newly formed Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development in front of the Mayor and City Council a few weeks ago that included a kind of threat: we aren’t going away, we are paying attention, we will vote.

2) At this very moment the Bethlehem City Democratic Committee is hosting their annual picnic in Bethlehem Township (have they sucked all the noise out of town? is that why it is so quiet?).

Those two thoughts led to two others:

3) Nobody’s vulnerable to an election defeat in the near future.

4) Where are the Bethlehem Republicans when we need them?

These 4 thoughts arc’d in Gadfly’s mind, leading to a sobering conclusion.

Nothing might get done about the “existential threat” Seth dramatically articulated because the threat about voting the Mayor and Council out of office was empty.

The Mayor cannot run again, and, in any event, the next mayoral election is basically two years away. An eternity. The Mayor isn’t worried.

There is a Council election in November, but it is a meaningless mid-term, turnout will be low, and — worst of all — there is no opposition for the primary winners at this time. Does any Council member fear defeat?

So Gadfly started thinking about what a shame it is in this instance that we don’t have an opposing party in town that might take up now before the November general election the “cause” that the BRRD and others have generated and spur the active leadership in regard to affordable housing and neighborhood property-value security that comes when your office is on the line.

Will the Mayor and Council — partying right now in the wilds of Memorial Park — be complacent?

Who will step up?

Is it still possible for an Independent to challenge in the general election and shake things up a bit?

Sharing your reading: turning renters into owners

(Latest in a series of posts about affordable housing)
(also 5th in a series about sharing your reading)

Jeff Speck: “Turn renters into owners.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

(The Gadfly blog is turning into the “Journal for the Advancement of Affordable Housing”! Hey, have you — no matter where you live in the City — gotten on the mailing list of the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development at moglen@lehigh.edu? If you haven’t, wouldya?)

There are 15 homes in Gadfly’s extended block.

A decade ago there was just one rental. Now there are 6. Rentals now are 40% of Gadfly’s immediate neighborhood.

2 of the 6 rentals are student housing — the landlords enjoying the benefits of the infamous “5 students = a family” rule.

Things are going downhill: peeling paint, trash clutter, unmowed grass, unshoveled snow removal, competitive parking, trees lost, missing teeth on railing’d porches, deteriorating facades, etc., etc. You name it.

One very good neighbor has rented for 10 years. What’s up with that?

$1400/mo. x 12/mo. a year x 10yrs = $168,000.

The landlord has not raised the rent in that time. These good people pay regularly, not always the case in rental management. So he wants to keep them. But he has done little in upkeep on the property and won’t until they move and he is forced to for new tenants.

Why rent so long? And seemingly so irrationally economically.

You would think if they could pay (substantial) rent steadily for 10 years, they could make mortgage payments.

Their specific situation is a bit more complicated — general issues of credit and possible need for quick moves — but one main reason, they say, is the down-payment hump.

Speck: “Babylon, N.Y., . . . reached out to all local renters with a down-payment assistance program.”

Just tryin’ to stir the idea-pot . . .

If you aren’t reading, you may not be thinking. What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.

Sharing your reading: Granny flats

(Latest in a series of posts about affordable housing)
(also 4th in a series about sharing your reading)

Jeff Speck: “Pass an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance . . . and create a City program encouraging their construction.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

So you see what Gadfly is doing here, right? Trying to educate himself.

Bethlehem has an acknowledged problem with lack of affordable housing.

(Remember, he’s liking the term “attainable housing” too.)

We could hop over to the sidebar, click the “candidates for election” link, and find several of the candidates affirming attention to affordable housing as a campaign platform position.

Easy to say in campaign mode.

And, of course, in that setting, nobody talked about how to do anything to further affordable housing.

The Mayor’s response to the South Bethlehem Historical Society letter named a housing program example but hardly indicated any wide-ranging program to address affordable housing.

So Gadfly’s trying to educate himself.

Speck says, “there is a way to almost invisibly increase density, affordability, and diversity in single-family neighborhoods.”

That is:

the Accessible Dwelling Unit (ADU): the Backyard Apartment, the Garage Apartment, the Mother-in-law Apartment, the Granny Flat.

Now just with inclusionary zoning, we may already have codes for ADU’s. Gadfly doesn’t know. And just like with inclusionary zoning, Speck may be glossing over big negatives,

But this idea as a partial solution to the lack of affordable housing was new to Gadfly and sounded kinda interesting.

ADU’s have a small footprint: 500 – 800 sq. ft. They work well in neighborhoods with rear alleys. They increase property values. They (Gadfly’s antennae go up) “make aging in place possible,” as seniors rent them out or live in them and collect rent for the main house.

One town offers zero-interest loans up to $20,000 to build them.

Seattle offers a guide. Look at the pictures!

There are 11 houses on Gadfly’s block. The yards are 60ft. long. Only two “use” the yards. A couple are jungles. Is my neighborhood ripe for Granny flats?

Take this eyesore of a single-car garage, for example, that hasn’t housed a car in the 50yrs Gadfly has lived next to it.

Ripe for a Granny flat?

Just tryin’ to stir the pot . . .

What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.

Sharing your reading: inclusionary zoning

(Latest in a series of posts about affordable housing)
(also 3rd in a series about sharing your reading)

Jeff Speck, “Pass a mandatory Inclusionary Zoning ordinance”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

Gadfly had never heard the term “inclusionary zoning” before reading Speck. Maybe we already have it. He doesn’t know. But the term felt new and got him thinking about this subject of affordable housing that we have been following lately.

(Speck, by the way, gifted Gadfly another new term worth incorporating into your wordbank: “attainable housing.” For Gadfly, it adds a layer of meaning to “affordable.” Try it on.)

Gadfly probably doesn’t have to tell you that he can be a drama king. If you need a reminder, go to his “A Plea for Affordable Housing,” the post that started this thread back in June.

At least take 70 seconds and listen again to the guy who somberly ended the parade of resident speakers at the Nitschmann meeting on the Martin Tower demolition.

Gadfly will never forget that quiet, unassuming guy and his moving simplicity. Pleas for help like this — and the South Bethlehem Historical Society letter — are like those sticky wall balls thrown at Gadfly’s mind.

Here’s Gadfly in full drama mode:

Let’s keep that muffled elderly voice and the vigorous chorus of audience support in mind as we think about what the City can do to remedy the lack of affordable housing.

There is a problem, and “we” know in our guts something has to be done about it.

Martin Tower, 548 apartments proposed (or is it 528? or 598? The mind boggles). The Boyd Theater, 120. Skyline West, 50.

How many of these housing units will be affordable, attainable?

Enter “inclusionary zoning.”

Speck:

What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.