“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.

Taxpayer’s money triggers responsibility

(Latest post in a series about Neighborhoods)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

Each of these [Boyd Theater, Starter’s, Banana Factory] is a worthwhile project, but as I was constantly reminded by Members of Council and others during my 16 years managing all grants received by the City of Bethlehem, it’s still taxpayers’ money that’s being doled out to private entities. In the case of RCAP, bonds are floated that need to be repaid by Pennsylvania taxpayers, so the gift of grants also triggers a responsibility to repay. In the case of housing at the Boyd Theater location I absolutely agree that “affordable” units should be in the mix especially since public $$ are subsidizing it. A blend of rental ranges must be a priority.

Dana

State funds further Northside and Southside development projects

(Latest post in a series about Neighborhoods)

Gadfly has been snarky about certain aspects of development lately — like on the Southside and around Lehigh University — but this development news feels like very good news — financial support for apartments in the Northside downtown, a public market on the Southside, and expanding the Banana Factory.

Gadfly is facing the downsizing decision, and the idea of an apartment in center city has its appeal. The question is will he be able to afford one there. Or are we talking totally “luxury” apartments out of reach? Let’s hear it for housing affordable in his middle range bracket. And huzza for finally some activity on a key downtown section. Do we know anything about developer Jefferson — has he done work in the City before?

Gadfly hasn’t heard any details about the public market yet, but his first impulse is to think that’s a good use for that space and a good idea for the City.

And we’ve reported extensively here (see the Banana Factory thread on the sidebar) on the ArtsQuest project as it moved through City committees. There was some disagreement about demolishing a house on the property, but ArtsQuest seems to have worked with committee suggestions well, and their plans seemed to have met with generally high approval. See pictures and plans on previous posts on the Banana Factory thread.

Nicole Radzievich, “Storied Bethlehem projects just got a $2 million jump start.” Morning Call, August 2, 2019.

Bethlehem has landed $2 million in state grants to jump start a trio of key economic development projects: The redevelopment of the shuttered Boyd Theatre, a new public market at Lehigh Riverport and the expansion of the Banana Factory, according to state Sen. Lisa Boscola.

Boyd Theater:

Project details: The long-shuttered Boyd Theatre, once a beloved 98-year-old vaudeville and movie house in Center City Bethlehem, will be demolished to make way for a $22 million apartment and retail project under a proposal owner Charles Jefferson plans to submit to the city. The 120-apartment project would bring residents to a sleepy block just around the corner from historic Main Street, injecting more vibrancy into a downtown that grew up around the city’s original Moravian settlement. The first-floor retail would augment a stretch known as Restaurant Row.

Public Market at Lehigh Riverport:

Project details: A $3 million public market, building on the success of others like the one that Easton debuted in 2016, would replace the former Starters Riverport, where the Lehigh Valley’s largest restaurant once operated. The space would be home to 30 vendors and businesses.

ArtsQuest Community Cultural Center (Banana Factory)

Details: ArtsQuest, the nonprofit behind Musikfest, is planning an expansion to the Banana Factory, an arts and education center it launched in 1999 in south Bethlehem. The 80,000-square-foot expansion will include an arts-based preschool program, more classes for people of all ages, a black box theater and more.

Gadfly is interested to hear if followers see any pitfalls surrounding these developments.

Clarifying the development process

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

You know what you need to do:
Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development: Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu)
Mayor Donchez: rdonchez@bethlehem-pa.gov
City Council: c/o cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov
Morning Call letter to editor: https://www.mcall.com/opinion/readers-react/mc-letter-to-the-editor-ngux-htmlstory.html

Today is recycle day.

Gadfly would take you back to two of his “modest proposal” posts (for the full thread of modest proposals, see under Topics on the sidebar).

Both have to do with Gadfly’s hunger for information.

In “The more the merrier,” Gadfly modestly proposed “that the half-dozen or so ‘independent’ Authorities be requested to attend at least two City Council meetings per year, once in the first six months and once in the second, to report on current activities and future plans and to receive comments and questions from both Council members and the general public.”

And, building on that idea, in “An even merrier more,” Gadfly modestly proposed “that each [City] department head come to a meeting twice a year, once in the first half and once in the second, and briefly tell ‘us’ what’s happening in that department. . . . Our Council meetings are ‘live’ and on video now. We could announce a schedule of such guest appearances – ‘coming attractions’ — and promote them in a modest way. People with interest in certain areas could be alerted to attend or tune in or catch up later.”

Gadfly was thinking about these two proposals — aimed at greater exchange of information — aimed at greater transparency, visibility, accountability — in regard to what he called the “teachable moment” when the Mayor responded to the letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society.

The Mayor said, ” I also hope you understand that there is a process that each developer has to go through. . . . There are various City departments, boards, authorities[,]*** and commissions that assist with development,” etc., etc.

“I also hope you understand” — well, not necessarily.

Lou James and the board of the South Bethlehem Historical Society have been around for a long time. Maybe they need no tutorial.

But Gadfly thinks most of “us” do need one.

To Gadfly — who sees himself as your average citizen — the development process is pretty much shrouded in mystery.

Here’s what Gadfly means by a “teachable moment” in this case.

This would have been a good opportunity to lay out and walk us through the generic development process in detail.

Gadfly has so many questions.

Where does a project start — with a developer or with the City? Are there conversations, arguments, negotiations over aesthetic as well as technical matters? What give-and-take goes on? What kind of projects are sought, what turned away? Who are the key people at the key junctures in the process? What sticky points arise, and how do they get reconciled? How much control does the City have? Where does “history” get on the table? That kind of thing.

A presentation about the steps or phases in a generic development process would be illuminating and would be sure to stimulate questions leading to a better understanding of how we get what we get.

Gadfly can see this as a valuable example of a department presentation at a City Council meeting he modestly proposes above.

*** Prof Gadfly — Conan the Grammarian to several decades of Lehigh students — is a proponent of the Oxford comma and just had to insert it here.

 

An easier way to contact

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

‘Tis very easy to email Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) regarding the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development (BRRD).

But Gadfly is also urging you to email the Mayor and City Council with Kim’s “We all need you to support viable neighborhoods on the Southside, NOW.”

Contact info is on the Gadfly sidebar.

Mayor is easy: rdonchez@bethlehem-pa.gov

But sending to all those Council members? A little less easy.

Suggestion.

Send one email to City Clerk Robert Vidoni: cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov

And ask that it be forwarded to all Council members.

One step.

Now that’s easy.

No excuses.

Something else you can do about the “existential threat” in South Bethlehem

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

Remember, Gadfly urges you — wherever you live in the City — to email Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) as an act of solidarity and to get your name on the mailing list of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development. But there’s something else you can do too — see below.

In his post about the Mayor’s teachable moment, Gadfly wrote:

“Hoping to not sound overly dramatic, Gadfly is starting to sense somewhat of a ‘crisis’ in regard to affordable housing on the Southside.”

Then, without literally using the dreaded “c” word, b’damn’d if Seth Moglen doesn’t put a solid foundation under Gadfly’s vague sensation in describing the state of his Southside neighborhood:

“Our neighborhood now faces an existential threat.”

An existential threat is a crisis.  A crisis is an existential threat.

Gadfly’s attention to this crisis/existential threat was triggered by the May 22 South Bethlehem Historical Society letter to the Mayor and Council and then the failure of the Planning Commission to actively respond to the concerns of residents of First Terrace.

The Mayor took action on the First Terrace situation — good — but Gadfly found the Mayor’s response to SBHS tepid, formulaic.

The Mayor’s letter didn’t match the emotional sense of urgency in the SBHS letter.

There was no recognition of crisis or threat in his words.

The message in the Mayor’s letter was that headquarters had everything under control. Don’t worry. Leave it to us. The situation is in good hands. Trust.

That’s not the way some residents were feeling, however.

And hence the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development forms.

As natural a consequence in a town with conscientious citizens as a chemical process.

It had to happen. Political action. Resident pressure.

Gadfly hopes that those of you who haven’t emailed Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) to register your support and get on the BRRD mailing list will do so like right away. It’s so easy to do. And if you forget Seth’s address, it’s on the Gadfly sidebar.

Do it. No matter where you live. This is not just for Southsiders.

As Dana said in response to a post by Kim Carrell-Smith recently: “[Irresponsible development] can happen in any corner of and neighborhood in the city.”

But there is something else you can do.

In that post, Kim gives us the clue. Kim gives us the cue.

Write to the Mayor and City Council.  Contact info can be found on the Gadfly sidebar.

And all you have to do is use Kim’s words:

“We all need you to support viable neighborhoods on the Southside, NOW.”

Simple.

Effective.

Political action.

Resident pressure.

Gadfly urges you.

Gadfly’s Tour de Rentz: from Hillside to First Terrace

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

Remember, Gadfly urges you — wherever you live in the City — to email Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) as an act of solidarity and to get your name on the mailing list of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

Gadfly had to see for himself. He had long heard tales of Southside woe from Olga Negron and Stephen Antalics. He recently heard resident fears of the spectre of “lower Hillside” spreading upward with devastating impact. There was even talk of “existential crisis.” How could this be?

Time for Gadfly to follow his own principle. Time to look at the primary sources.

Gadfly’s Tour de Rentz starts at the foot of Hillside Ave. (approx at 531 Hillside Ave.) alongside the Zoellner Arts Center Parking Garage. It proceeds up Hillside past Thomas and Selfridge, turning on Stoneman, and ending on First Terrace.

Join him. The videos linked below are only a few seconds each.

If you know this neighborhood at all, you probably know it speeding through in a car. Let’s slow down. The Tour de Rentz is on foot.

Tour map

1) Foot of Hillside Ave: looking up the hill, student housing as far as you can see. Just about every house “signed.” The few beautifully full trees left may be an indication that at one time this was a handsome tree-lined street.

2) North (east) side of Hillside: we begin moving up on “lower Hillside,” the heavily dense student-housing section that residents of “upper Hillside” fear is in their future.

3) South (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly is struck by the long string of interesting looking houses. One can easily imagine that they were once comfortable family homes.

4) Farther up on the south (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly admits to being something of a “romantic,” but he was taken by the look of these houses — big living room windows, nice porches, once tree-lined. And the porches up high. He talked with a guy perched far above the sidewalk as he passed — lord of all he surveyed. Gadfly had to crane his neck. A feeling of the first floor on the second floor. Interesting.

5) Turning right off Hillside, south on Thomas, uphill into the Lehigh campus: Gadfly quietly orgasmic at the beautiful double that meets him. What an interesting twin. A sense of size and sturdiness. Gadfly quietly admitting to himself that he expected not to be impressed by the original quality of the homes. Gadfly quietly feeling shame at what has happened here to what once were “homes.”.

6) Turning left off Hillside, north on Thomas: looks like an apartment house, was this relatively newly built? Looks out of place with surroundings. Looks clean and nice — but out of place. Doesn’t seem to blend.

7) Back up Hillside again: encountering a “pod” of rentals on the north (east) side, a whole block that collapsed from familytude. Gadfly imagines the male householder drifting down to the Sokols for a brew or two.

8) Turning right off Hillside, south (uphill) on Selfridge: 4 out of 5 houses on the block are rentals, the corner property owner looks to be holding on to a cute house. Gadfly imagines tension in that corner house.

9) Turning left off Hillside, north on Selfridge: look at the fence and stone work on the double next to the corner house. Interesting. Gadfly getting more of an appreciation for the art of building houses on hills. Steep hills.

10) We reach upper Hillside: now predominantly homeowners, but rentals have made a breach. A kind of border crossing here. Gadfly wishes his camera had lingered more on the northside homes along Hillside here.

11) Upper Hillside: (Lousy video.) Not dominated by rentals. Yet. Solitary rental property on the right with trash in front faces well kept, flowered home with a guy gardening on the left. Not a pretty composite picture. Like a spot on a lung of this stretch of neighborhood.

12) Turning right (south), uphill, off Hillside on Stoneman: houses owned by Lehigh Properties, of the recent case about a 40-student dorm on First Terrace before the Planning Commission.

13) Gadfly quizzed separately by an adult and two students about what he was up to. They are fidgety, guilty looking. Suspicious of me. And a bit snarky. Gadfly thought it best not to incite by filming the encounters. Gadfly life expectancies are short as it is.

14) Turning right off the top of Stoneman on to First Terrace: this the spot where Lehigh Properties wants to build a 40-student dorm, knocking down 4 homes to do so. Remember that residents made a determined argument against the proposal in front of the Planning Commission to no avail — but that the Mayor broke the norm and effectively shot down the proposal. But what alternative lurks?

15) Farther along on First Terrace past the 4 houses proposed for demolition to build a large dorm: privately owned homes, signs of care for the houses, signs of domesticity, flowers, gardens, neat lawns, this is a neighborhood. So clear that the proposed dormitory development was dead wrong. Did the developer have any regard at all?

16) Farther yet on First Terrace: view across the Valley, unfortunately not video’d, an exhilarating top of the mountain feel. More clear signs of home care, more clear signs that this is a neighborhood — clear signs of the domestic life endangered by the rental scourge creeping up from below.

Remember, Gadfly urges you — wherever you live in the City — to email Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) as an act of solidarity and to get your name on the mailing list of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

Please forgive Gadfly the poopy camera skills. He could name one faithful follower who should have had the job.

Time for Bethlehem residents from all parts of the city to join the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development to help with this Southside crisis

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

Kim Carrrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!

Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development: contact Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) to show solidarity and to get on the mailing list. (THIS IS SO EASY!)

Gadfly,

As you’ve heard, we’ve reached a truly critical time for the future of Southside neighborhoods within a quarter of a mile or so of Lehigh University. The very present and future danger to our neighborhoods generally come from newer investor/developers who haven’t done their homework and may not be aware that they are risking big investments in an already crowded student housing market in which the actual number of students is unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future. But as a South Bethlehem resident, my questions don’t concern how to help those investors save their shirts; I am concerned about how we may maintain viable neighborhoods in the face of this rapidly changing investor landscape, and WHO can help with that. What’s at issue?

* What happens to residential neighborhoods when they are overrun by young college students who don’t have a long-term investment in neighborhood relationships, and property?
*  What happens when an investor pays well over the median cost of a home, in anticipation of student-level rents (at least $3500/month for a five bedroom), and then students bypass those houses for another developer’s newer, flashier development?
*  What happens to empty, deteriorating homes, left behind by students seeking the latest luxury living, in what were once neighborhoods buzzing with children, their parents chatting on front stoops or sweeping the sidewalk?
*  What happens to the security and safety of a neighborhood that was once filled with eyes on the street and people on the sidewalks, with homes well-tended and maintained?
*  What happens to the family who can afford less than a third of that student-level rent, yet needs a home?
*  What happens to the reputation of local colleges and universities when nearby neighborhoods deteriorate?
*  What happens to our city when our neighborhoods fail?
*  What would happen if all this occurred in YOUR neighborhood?

I hope City Council and Lehigh administrators (and DeSales, NCC, and Penn State –why not invite them to the table, since their students live in these “regulated rental” houses, too) are ready to commit publicly to some hard work, RIGHT NOW –not in six or twelve months– WITH (and not just for) local residents,  to assure that “what happens” is not destructive, irreversible, and harmful to families and viable neighborhoods, to the reputation of our local institutions of higher ed, and even to those very students who want places to live off their campuses. We all have a lot to lose.

And I hope there are Bethlehem residents from all parts of the city who will want to join the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development to help with this crisis, even if it is not happening now in your neighborhood. This is bigger than just a few homes, and a few people.

So what’s up now that is so urgent about these big pocket student housing investors?  First, a clarification about one of Stephen Antalics’ comments: Fifth St Properties is, in fact, located in Bethlehem and has a pretty good reputation for keeping up with maintenance and responding to complaints. But Fifth St. Properties recently sold 44 buildings in their portfolio to an out of state real estate group located in NYC, Stonebridge Campus Living; the latter is new to Bethlehem. Their investment in the 44 buildings they acquired from Fifth Street Properties averages out to about $485,000 EACH (real estate investors buy in group lots, so that figure is an average based on the total Stonebridge paid for all 44 buildings). And as folks have heard, the developer who owns the Lehigh Properties GP, LLC is not located in Bethlehem, either. The latter is owned by a young Lehigh alum who wants to demo four of his properties to create a big luxury student housing complex on First Terrace; he paid an average of $240,000 for each of the four homes he wants to demolish (a rather extraordinary sum for Southside homes!), when he acquired the entire portfolio.

So housing prices are going nuts (compare the investor purchases to other recent home purchases by individuals around here!), as developers fail to study the market, and fail to understand Lehigh’s intention to keep the number of off-campus students steady, even as the university’s overall student numbers increase. As Anna Smith, the director of CADCB, noted in her last post, one result of that failure to study the market will probably lead to companies poaching student renters for their newer luxury student rental developments. That constant shift in student housing is a precarious situation for neighborhoods, as financially over-committed investors will want to find ways to maximize their profits. It seems highly unlikely that these investors would want to shift their attention to work on sensitive neighborhood development, or rehab older housing stock to rent it at reasonable prices to families, when they’ve sunk small fortunes into buying up portfolios of high-priced student rentals  . . .

On the Southside we increasingly see student rental signs going up on what were privately-owned homes, indicating ownership by large investment/management groups, which indicate that those rentals are no longer welcoming (or affordable) to families and individuals. But there are still more “regulated student rentals” (see Anna Smith’s recent Gadfly post), which are owned by local individual investors who may have as few as one, or as many as 15 properties. Investors buy in groups, so the latter groups of properties may currently be at particular risk of being swallowed up by those big players with so much money to spend in the local market.

Time to focus, city leaders and Lehigh (and maybe DeSales, Penn State and NCC) administrators! We are at a critical time for the future of the Southside. The Southside Vision Housing Committee is leading the way, and (along with the city’s DCED folks) has the data, but residents need participation and commitment from those other institutional leaders –at the highest levels– to head off a greater housing crisis, and the destruction of viable neighborhoods. And deep pocket investors and developers threaten to drive an even bigger wedge than already exists between Lehigh and its nearby neighbors, and between City of Bethlehem leaders and Southside residents.

We don’t have to let this happen. But we ALL need to work together on the problem now, through zoning, planning, heavily publicizing Lehigh’s actual intentions about student housing through public and private presentations to current and potential investors and landlords, and by recognizing current neighborhoods that are strong, and identifying those which may be faltering. We can support and build strong neighborhoods. We can bring back balance in local development. But we can’t do it if we can’t get folks to work together, and FAST, to demonstrate a genuine — and public — commitment to those goals.

Please contact Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) to join forces with BRRD. Please contact City Council members to say, “we all need you to support viable neighborhoods on the Southside, NOW.”

What would happen if all this were going on in YOUR neighborhood?

Kim

Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development: contact Seth Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) to show solidarity and to get on the mailing list. (THIS IS SO EASY!)

Anyone can join for a term or a year is not a “family”

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

Gadfly:

As I would expect from Tony, this article makes some really good points. People in non-traditional families or communal living arrangements should not automatically be excluded. However, I think the idea of the article is to allow arrangements that are long-term in nature, not transient ‘anyone can join our group’ arrangements for a term or a year, which is the norm for student housing.

Peter Crownfield

It’s time to move forward with some zoning or code changes to address student housing

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

Anna Smith is a life-long Southside resident and Director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.

Gadfly:

On student housing –

Last year, following a rapid increase in the average sales price of single-family homes in south Bethlehem and an increase in speculative investment in student housing, the Southside Vision Housing Committee worked with a consultant from Philadelphia who is an expert in housing policy to study the student housing and development issue in south Bethlehem. Throughout several months, the committee worked with the consultant to explore best practices for maintaining mixed-income neighborhoods and examined potential changes to ordinances and policies that could effectively address the expansion of student housing in south Bethlehem. The committee included representatives from the City, Lehigh University, local residents, and even a student-housing provider. A final list of five prioritized strategies was provided at the end of the process, and zoning changes emerged as the first priority of many of the residents on the committee.

Since then, City officials have been examining the different codes and ordinances that regulate student housing and development in order to determine what changes will best address the changing nature of our neighborhoods. As many have stated, a single line in an ordinance can make a huge difference; whatever changes are made now need to be well thought out if we expect them to truly make the desired impact: preserve diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods.

Currently, student housing falls under the City’s regulated rental ordinance (see: https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/ordinance/articles/ARTICLE1739.html#01). This is not part of the zoning code, but, rather, the ordinance establishes basic conditions for the occupancy of properties that house 3-5 unrelated individuals on a single lease. There is no limit to the number nor location of these properties; as long as a property owner complies with yearly inspections, registers the property with the City, and provides copies of the lease with all tenant information (among a few other basic requirements), then the property can function as a regulated rental.

Changes in zoning and ordinances could take a number of forms—here are two of the main changes that we explored on the committee:

  1. Alter the regulated rental ordinance to include fewer unrelated occupants. This approach has been used in Allentown near Muhlenberg’s campus, and the logic behind it is that you limit the financial incentive for property owners to rent to students. If you can only make rental income from 2 or 3 students, is it worth converting your property to student housing?

While the creation of the original regulated rental ordinance has been cited by some as the source of the Southside’s student housing issues, I’m not sure that reducing the number of students allowed in each home would help us to achieve our goal. Lehigh has repeatedly confirmed, in public and private conversations, their intentions to maintain a stable off-campus housing population—the number of students needing off-campus housing will remain consistent throughout Lehigh’s expansion, so there is no need for additional student housing. Similarly, Lehigh does not intend to bring any additional students on to campus, so there will be no reduction in the number of students needing off-campus housing. What would happen if we changed our codes to say 2 or 3 students maximum per house? Well, we would need A LOT more student housing off-campus to accommodate those students. Given the Southside’s housing stock (single family homes with 3-5 bedrooms), this sounds to me like an incentive to build giant towers with student apartments close to campus. Is that more desirable? Some might argue yes, but I’m not so sure. We could grandfather in the existing properties, but not sure how that would stand up legally—we would providing a huge economic benefit to existing housing providers while effectively shutting out any new competition.

  1. Create a zoning ordinance that limits the number of regulated rental homes in a particular area. This could be done through minimum distance requirements between homes, or percentages by block or zone. Different zones could have different rules—closer to campus, you could allow up to 100% student housing, while neighborhoods further away could have more restrictions.

While I prefer this option, there are certainly some downsides to consider. How do we draw the lines? How many homeowners will we be giving up on if we allow a neighborhood to be targeted for up to 100% student housing? (I will point out that 100% student housing is currently permissible in any neighborhood, so this wouldn’t be a change from the status quo). However, can we ask the last 4-5 families on lower Montclair to sacrifice what remains of their neighborhood in order to protect upper Carlton? It’s a hard decision to make.

Other things to consider when we talk about changing codes and ordinances:

— What happens to homes that investors have spent $400k+ on if we significantly alter the housing market in south Bethlehem? These purchases were made anticipating revenue from 5 students paying a minimum of $700 per month each. If the investor can’t get the money, will they sell? Leave the property vacant? Rent to families? The future of many Southside neighborhoods could depend on how student-housing providers answer that question. Our fate as a community is wrapped up in the consequences—not just the housing provider’s bottom line.

— Many student-housing investors are purchasing and renovating homes in hopes of stealing students away from other student housing providers. Competition encourages student-housing providers to keep up their homes if they want to stay in the market and charge top dollar. If we remove or significantly reduce competition, will we remove incentives for upkeep?

I’m glad to see that the conversation on Southside neighborhoods is continuing, and thanks to the Gadfly for providing a forum to share these ideas! The more folks involved in researching, proposing, and analyzing policies, the better. It’s clear to me that it is time to move forward with some zoning or code changes to address student housing, and there’s a lot to think about as we design a new policy. I’d encourage anyone interested in getting more involved in the discussion to join us at the Southside Vision Housing Committee—send me an email at asmith@caclv.org and I’ll get you the details!

Anna

Anna always gives us a lot to chew on.

The latest on defining a “family”

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

Big thanks to Tony Hanna!

Copied entire article instead of link because you might need a subscription.

Argues for widening definition of “family” but note the bolded section about  rejecting students as such. Interesting.

Gadfly does not see 5 college students as commited to each other in the way a family should be, nor does he see them as a “functional family.”

The housing plans released by the Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker, Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren rightly recognize that only bold federal intervention can fix a problem as entrenched as housing segregation. But by offering towns financial incentives to change their zoning codes — the most powerful force dictating where and how people live — and little else, the plans miss the mark.

In many communities, zoning codes prohibit apartments, require people to live on large lots or set minimum square footages for dwellings. These rules have the effect of excluding low-income people, regardless of the intent of the people who wrote the laws.

But wealthy towns with the most exclusive rules do not need the money. Mr. Castro has offered a second idea, suggesting a commission to establish national guidelines for zoning. Guidelines, though, are just advisory. They will not actually force a change.

Instead, their plans should target one of the most significant, insidious and legally vulnerable barriers to flexible and inclusive zoning codes: the definition of “family.”

Almost every zoning code across the country defines “family” in a traditional way: people who are legally related by blood, marriage or adoption. Sometimes, the definition allows a small number of unrelated people (say, two or three), who are functioning as a “housekeeping unit” to be considered a family.

Such definitions exclude people just as committed to each other as members of “traditional” families, but who don’t satisfy legal conditions. These “families of choice” consist of unrelated adults who decide to share finances, child-rearing responsibilities, home repairs, chores and meals. They include groups of single moms, households that have merged and older adults forging new lives together after the deaths of their spouses.

The definition of family matters because zoning codes typically have a “one family per housing unit” policy. These policies are most strictly enforced in the neighborhoods with single-unit detached homes — 64 percent of neighborhoods, according to the 2013 American Housing Survey. It’s in these communities where housing affordability tends to be low, and racial segregation high.

Some cities, like Minneapolis, have started making plans to reduce or eliminate the amount of land devoted to single-unit zoning. But other cities, like Plano, Tex. — where more than 4,000 residents have mobilized to overturn similar plans — have taken steps backward. The amount of land devoted to single-unit, detached dwellings is not likely to change greatly in the places that need it the most. Other aspects of zoning, like lot size controls and minimum square footages, would also be hard to override.

But definitions of family appear to be more ripe for change. Four state supreme courts — California, Michigan, New Jersey and New York — have already struck down zoning ordinances that failed to allow “functional families.” They found that such ordinances violate rights to due process, privacy or both. They also found that communities can still achieve a “residential character” without delving into the specifics of the relationships among residents. And they said that traditional family definitions flunk the “rational basis test” courts use to determine whether a law is constitutional.

These decisions make sense. The 1950s, when nearly 70 percent of children were raised in married-couple, male-breadwinner households, are long gone. (Today, only 22 percent of children have the same arrangement.) Similarly, nonmarital cohabitation and high housing prices have resulted in an unprecedented fluidity of family structure and living arrangements.

Moreover, there is no evidence that a traditional family and a true functional family differ in land-use effects. The fact that zoning codes allow an unlimited number of related people to live together (while limiting unrelated people) is not rational, either.

Justice Thurgood Marshall raised this point in his dissent in a 1974 case, Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, when he said that the definition of family being upheld by the court would allow a family of 12 in a small bungalow, but that “three elderly and retired persons could not occupy the large manor house next door.” In other words, the communal living arrangement in “The Golden Girls” would be a zoning violation. (Dorothy and Sophia were related, but Blanche and Rose were not.)

Four state courts are not 50 state courts, and federal courts have not definitively ruled on the matter. The Belle Terre case upheld a definition of family that excluded a group of six college students from living together, but that group of college students was not a functional family. A 1977 Supreme Court case, Moore v. City of East Cleveland, struck down a zoning code that prohibited a grandmother and her grandsons from living together in their home. But that decision applied only to “related” people in traditional relationships.

Presidential candidates should loosen these restrictive definitions. They could propose thoughtful federal statutes that articulate how local governments can regulate the family. There’s precedent for that: The Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act overrode local controls to improve access to wrongfully closed-off places. Candidates could also commit to appoint judges who understand this issue and take a broad view of family structure.

Championing this issue would promote progressive ideals. And it could unite both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives may come to realize that limited definitions of family erode property rights and freedom of association in the home.

As a zoning official, I’m usually the last person to advocate for federal intrusion into local decision-making. But the problems of housing inequality and segregation are too big for localities to tackle piecemeal. Every presidential candidate should incorporate into their housing plans a definition of family that better reflects how we choose to live today.

That simple line is destroying our Southside!

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

Olga Negron is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman.

I agree with your suggestion Gadfly. The line: “up to 5 unrelated individuals who maintain a common household with common cooking facilities and certain rooms in common” was added to allow student rentals, and it’s what both Gadfly Antalics and I have been talking about. That simple line is destroying our Southside! Yes, I agree we should “unmake” and delete that line, that might be the only way to save our community.

Olga

We need facts for fights

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

Kate McVey is a concerned citizen, 30-year resident of Bethlehem, professional organizer, dog owner, mother of two children, been around, kosher cook . . . explorer.

Gadfly:

As I sat recently at a City Council meeting [July 2] listening to the heartfelt pleas of the residents from Hillside and around, I couldn’t help but think: are we re-inventing the wheel?  Surely this has happened everywhere there is a university. So this is not new. So what has happened to those communities where developers want to take over the properties of thriving neighborhoods? There must be statistics. Look at Ann Arbor, look at Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Philly.

What I feel is that everyone loses their homes, but the universities win. More students, more revenue, someone at the top is making money. Unless we become like Aspen where city workers could not afford to live in Aspen and the town ended up building affordable housing units for their workers, which are awarded through lottery. Could this become Bethlehem?

There have to be statistics somewhere. The Council is not going to listen to heartfelt stories and cries from the residents. But they might listen to statistics and maybe facts. What has happened in those cities where the students/universities have taken over? Has it been good for the towns?

I think we need facts for fights.  That is all I’m saying.

Kate

Kate importantly reinforces Gadfly Antalics’ basic question — “How do other communities with student populations address the issue?” — as well as Councilwoman Van Wirt’s oft-repeated call for data.

What City Council has wrought, City Council can unwrought

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

The point of Gadfly’s July 17 “More Night Sweats” post was that what City Council has wrought, City Council can unwrought.

The section of City ordinance 1302.43

Family. One or more individuals who are “related” to each other by blood, marriage or adoption (including persons receiving formal foster care) or up to 5 unrelated individuals who maintain a common household with common cooking facilities and certain rooms in common, and who live within one dwelling unit.

could read:

Family. One or more individuals who are “related” to each other by blood, marriage or adoption (including persons receiving formal foster care) and who live within one dwelling unit.

Too drastic?

Gadfly Antalics has shown that other college and university communities have managed with an ordinance containing a “3 unrelated individuals” provision.

That at least would be something.

Though the language purist in this Gadfly wonders why we have to muck up the definition of “family” with any trailing “or” provision that stretches its meaning and simply have a clean separate category for “student housing” or some such.

The “5 unrelated individuals” stretch as a definition of family (though a google search shows it is not unique with us) might have made sense at some point.

Gadfly would like to hear someone make the argument for it now.

Preferably in a locked room with Gadfly Antalics, Councilwoman Negron, and the Board of the South Bethlehem Historical Society.

But, again, the point is that what Council has made, Council can unmake.

“Our neighborhood now faces an existential threat”

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods
and Affordable Housing)

Contact for the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development is Seth Moglen: moglen@lehigh.edu. This group is open to all, not just 1st Terrace area residents. The more membership, the greater the power. And the issue here is not limited to one neighborhood.

Continuing here the thread started with the May 22 letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society and reinvigorated Saturday by Gadfly Antalics’ essay in the Morning Call.

“Our neighborhood now faces an existential threat.”

Gadfly quotes from Seth Moglen’s presentation at City Council July 16 in which he describes the situation in his Southside neighborhood, describes what he and his neighbors want from the Mayor and City Council, and announces the formation of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.***

Gadfly wants you to listen to Moglen. No pulling soundbites to make it easy for you this time. Always go to the primary source. Listen. Takes but six minutes.

Gadfly is depending on you to have listened.

He wants to focus on and play off one element.

The assertion of political power.

“What we are asking you for now is this. We want you  . . . to develop the tools that City government requires in order to stop this kind of predatory real estate speculation. . . . That’s what we are asking you to to do now, not years, months. There are dozens of us who have joined in an organization [Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development], we hope there will be hundreds of us soon. We will vote in the next election. . . . We are not going away.”

The nascent Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development has thrown down the gauntlet.

“We want . . . We will vote . . . We are not going away.”

Sounds like the BRRDers are telling the politicians that action on this Southside “existential threat” may determine the way they vote.

Gadfly urges you — wherever you live in the City — to email Moglen (moglen@lehigh.edu) as an act of solidarity and to get your name on their mailing list.

Bodies on board count.

And have you emailed the Mayor and City Council? Sent a letter to the Morning Call?

*** Gadfly focuses on Moglen’s presentation here, but that City Council meeting featured a half-dozen moving resident comments. Please find complete audio here.

Time for some citizen action

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods
and Affordable Housing)

Why was nothing done in the 7 years since the original 2012 Antalics article?

The Mayor politely tamped down the South Bethlehem Historical Society letter of May 22.

There’s been no formal response from Council, though CMs Negron and Callahan did have a kind of “conversation” about it at the June 16 Council meeting.

Do you sense that anybody will step up now when we just have news of a newcomer developer making a big investment in the Southside?

I’ll bet not.

What to do?

Rattle City Hall and Council. Somebody has to step up. Email contact info for the Mayor and Council members can be found on the Gadfly sidebar. Your responses don’t have to be particularly involved. Go for it if you want to. But simply saying you agree with the point Stephen makes, and you’d like to know what’s going to be done would do it. Expressing a legitimate sense of urgency would help immensely.

And how about follow-up letters to the Morning Call? Let’s show this is an issue that has to be addressed. Unfortunately, Gadfly just had a letter published last week and will fall under the MC once-a-month rule.

So Gadfly needs you to step up.

Remember, this is a general “neighborhood” issue — it affects us all, not just residents of the Southside. We all need to pitch in.

A good Sunday afternoon assignment: https://www.mcall.com/opinion/readers-react/mc-letter-to-the-editor-ngux-htmlstory.html

The sections in italics below were edited out of Stephen’s recent letter that we published yesterday.

It appears that the 40% higher rental profit margin in student housing possible in Bethlehem is not missed by big business.  Seventy one student houses in Bethlehem are owned by Campus Hill Enterprises whose home office is located in Hong Kong.  Another non-resident company owning a large number of student houses as indicted by the number of signs reflecting its name is Fifth Street Properties.  It is also rumored that pressure is being placed upon single families still owning their property to sell their homes to accommodate more student housing conversions

Bethlehem has commissioned a number of studies, such as the Sasaki Report, to determine best city designs.   The consensus of most studies was that the single family was the key ingredient for stability.  Why was the Southside overlooked?

Might Bethlehem’s planning officer consider amending the family definition to reflect the wisdom of other college community planners?  Also, might this potential revision possibly help allay the suspicions of many citizens that the interests of non-resident landlords and developers are higher than those of the community?  An opinion often expressed by concerned citizens at council meetings.

Time to read that May 22 South Bethlehem Historical Society letter again

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods
and Affordable Housing)

This letter started a chain of Gadfly thinking that you have seen reflected in the blog, as well as a series of significant responses, the latest of which is Gadfly Antalics’ recent letter to the Morning Call.

This letter should not be forgotten, should not be dusted over. Gadfly is thinking about reposting it periodically.

Lest we forget.

“We ask you honorable Mayor and City Council members to consider that history is being destroyed in the name of progress.”

“The economic impact of such progress is making it difficult for some to find affordable housing.”

005

“Lehigh’s major expansion plans” motivate major Southside development deal

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Brian Pedersen, “Group of student housing properties sells for $21.3M.” LVB.com. July 25, 2019.

 

A New York City-based family office bought a group of student housing properties near Lehigh University in South Bethlehem for $21.3 million.

The portfolio includes 44 properties totaling 219 bedrooms.

Ken Wellar, managing partner at Rittenhouse Realty Advisors of Philadelphia, said the buyer, whom he declined to name, bought the properties from Fifth Street Properties.

The high-net-worth buyer from New York City is new to the student housing market, Wellar said. He and Luke DeLuca, senior associate at Rittenhouse Realty, represented both the buyer and the seller in the transaction.

“The attraction [for the buyer] is really the strength of the university and the rent growth and also the demand for student housing in these locations,” Wellar said.

The properties, under the portfolio name Fifth Street Properties at Lehigh University, have modern, updated finishes. They include properties on East Fifth Street, East Packer Avenue and Carlton Avenue.

Another attraction for the buyer is Lehigh’s major expansion plans for the next decade, which include increasing enrollment and opening a College of Health.

Over the next decade, the university plans to increase its undergraduate population by 1,000 students, or roughly 20 percent, while increasing its graduate student population by 500. The expansion will also bring 100 new faculty members to the campus.

Gadfly followers might remember that testimony during the 1st Terrace case made the point that Lehigh plans will not create the need for off-campus housing and that the City has to get that word out to developers. This unnamed buyer — “new to the student housing market” — didn’t get the memo. Or maybe we are not getting the straight scoop from Lehigh. Or maybe, again as we learned in 1st Terrace, these properties are also being marketed to students from other colleges.

Disincentivize student-housing conversions on the Southside: change the definition of “family”

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Stephen Antalics is Gadfly #1.

YOUR VIEW: Student housing conversions harming Bethlehem’s South Side
Morning Call, July 27, 2019.

In the late 1980s, Bethlehem revised its zoning code to allow up to five unrelated individuals to be recognized as a family and live in one housing unit. According to Jeffrey R. Zettlemoyer, who at that time was the fair housing and labor compliance officer for the city, the increase was an incentive for more student housing conversions.

Most recently, a developer expressed a desire to replace four single-family homes on Bethlehem’s 1st Terrace with student housing consisting of two four-unit houses with five bedrooms in each unit. Similar conversions over the years have had a profoundly negative impact on the South Side.

If one were to time-travel back to the mid-1980s prior to the zoning revision, and drive the streets of the core residential section of the South Side, streets such as Carlton, Montclair, Birkel, Vine, Webster, Polk, Morton, Summit, Fillmore, Thomas, Taylor, Adams, Hillside and Pierce, you would see predominantly well-kept pristine single-family homes resplendent with grass green yards of flower and vegetable gardens and well-appointed porches.

Taking that trip today would reveal houses with large placards stating “Student Housing,” backyards with macadam surfaces to allow for overflow parking, alleys such as Boyce and Boyer streets appearing to be massive parking lots and two or three industrial-sized refuse containers on sidewalks before most houses.

Sidewalks are littered with cups and food containers after loud weekend parties. Bed sheets with messages are strung from second-story windows rallying athletic teams to victory over rivals, creating a college campus atmosphere on the city streets. A rather depressing annual sight is to see groups of people scavenging through piles of discards left by students who have departed for summer vacation. The absence of students and the absence of cars parked on the street gives some streets the appearance of a deserted city.

How do other communities in our state that are homes to institutes of higher learning address the student housing issue? Easton, with Lafayette College, State College, home of Penn State and Radnor Township, home to Villanova University and two other colleges are located, are examples where the number of unrelated individuals in their family zoning code definition is limited to three.

Calls to change this discrepancy of a family have been presented on a number of occasions before Bethlehem City Council. In an article published in the opinion section of this newspaper on September 4, 2012, I called for Bethlehem to revisit its zoning ordinance. The city has ignored all requests.

Bethlehem has commissioned a number of studies, such as the Sasaki Report, to determine best city designs. The consensus of most studies was that the single family home was the key ingredient for stability. Bethlehem’s planning officer should consider amending the family definition to reflect the wisdom of other college community planners.

Stephen

Gadfly #1 hits another home run.