Community land trusts make housing affordable forever

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

Tip o’ the hat to Barbara Diamond for sharing her reading on this timely topic in our town.


selections from Michael Friedrich, “Affordable Housing Forever.” New York Times, April 15, 2001.

Nonprofits that purchase land, build homes on it and sell them below market rate are giving low-income buyers a chance.

After being priced out of renting in a series of neighborhoods, Ms. Robey, a 43-year-old single mother, became determined to buy a house of her own. “Being able to build some kind of equity, being able to have this home base where your family can come visit,” Ms. Robey said, “I wanted that for myself.”

That wish became a reality when she discovered the Atlanta Land Trust, an organization that creates and protects affordable housing. Community land trusts are locally run nonprofits that purchase land, build homes on it and sell those homes below market rate to low-income buyers. The trust keeps the deed for the land, leasing it to homeowners who sign a long-term agreement to limit their home’s resale price, so that it stays affordable into the future.

“You make a one-time investment in creating a community land trust unit, and that unit is affordable forever,” said Amanda Rhein, executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust.

The Atlanta Land Trust focuses on low-income buyers who make between 60 percent and 80 percent of the local median income and can readily support a traditional mortgage.

The influence that powerful private real estate interests exert on American city governments has caused housing prices and rents to soar over the past decades, increasingly placing homeownership out of reach for families of color, and Black Americans like Ms. Robey in particular. Community land trusts form a promising corrective to this trend. By removing land from the speculative market, they keep housing affordable for first-time homeowners — especially low-income people of color.

In America, community land trusts have always been rooted in racial equity. Unlike other types of land trusts, like those formed to conserve land by restricting development, they were devised specifically to prevent the displacement of communities of color.

Encouraged by research on the benefits of community land trusts, Grounded Solutions aims to support the creation of one million new units across the country over the next 10 years. The model has been shown to keep foreclosure rates low through recessions and prevent displacement. It also increases access to homeownership and builds wealth over time for communities of color, according to a 30-year study of land trusts and similar affordable housing schemes from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

ADUs, not sexy but potentially part of the solution to the need for affordable housing

Latest post in a series on Affordable Housing

Councilwoman Van Wirt shares another piece of her reading. The productive conversation on affordable housing continues.

In an earlier post, Gadfly remarked that Councilwoman Van Wirt was nudging the City toward a quick ADU pilot program, like right now.

Councilwoman Van Wirt: “I would actually urge your committee to come up with a pilot program. Let’s just try something out of the gate. Let’s just change a zoning code to allow RDUs in a targeted area, serviced by public transit, maybe a 10-block area. . . . I don’t see why we wouldn’t try it. Let’s see what happens. . . . This crisis is right now upon us, and if we can come up with some tools that actually work now, I think that’s a good idea.”

“Who can afford to build one of those ADU’s in their back yard?
Who is this really serving?”

Type 3 developers a key to affordable housing

Latest in a series of posts on development

“Do you ever wonder why ‘developers’ don’t build affordable housing in Bethlehem? It’s because we are relying on Type 2 developers, deeply and consistently. We need Many Hands- small, incremental growth- Type 3, as in this article. Understanding our market — and our options to encourage type 3 developers — is one of the ways to see affordable housing start to flourish in Bethlehem.” (Paige Van Wirt)

Councilwoman Van Wirt, who has professional training and background in Urban Planning. has often praised Strong Towns and recommended articles.

This one is especially thought provoking and timely.

Gadfly had often wondered but has always neglected to ask.

Are we as a city passive in regard to developers, that is, are we dependent on who comes to us, or do we go out and approach and attract and “recruit” them?

For instance, Councilman Callahan’s oft repeated remark that there are only a few developers working in/on Bethlehem and that we need be careful not to chase them away has stuck deep in Gadfly’s mind the idea that we are passive. That we are dependent on the kindness of strangers.

For instance, Gadfly has always wondered the several times that Kim Carrell-Smith has made her thoughtful comments that history is our brand and that we need new architecture that blends with our history whether there are developers whose forte is exactly, is precisely such blending that we ought to be actively soliciting or seducing.

Gadfly used to run a feature called “Share your reading.” This article prompts him to think about reviving it.


from Daniel Herriges, “There Are 3 Different Kinds of Developers” (

Developers are a major source of political influence in cities large and small, but also a major political football—you’ve no doubt heard claims like “(Such-and-such city council member) is backed by developers” or “Developers are pushing for (such-and-such plan or proposed law).” The reality is probably that a much more specific subset of people are doing it. And that’s important to understand. Overgeneralization is not helping your ability to understand the forces actually shaping what gets built in your community and where, let alone change it.

There are actually different types of developers who operate by almost completely different business models. They build different types of buildings, in different places. They use different sources of financing. Local rules and regulations affect these different groups very differently, and—importantly—their interests often do not align.

If we focus specifically on residential developers, we can group them into three rough categories that barely overlap with each other.

Type 1: The Big National Homebuilder

Type 2: The “Big Urban Box” Developer

Type 3: The Incremental Infill Developer

These are the people whom our friends at the Incremental Development Alliance are dedicated to championing and teaching how to get started. They work at smaller scales: mostly individual, scattered lots, almost always in already-established neighborhoods. They tend to build a lot of Missing Middle housing, rarely over 3 stories or more than 20 apartments or houses in one project. They are often sole proprietors, subcontract locally, and often live in and are personally invested in the neighborhoods where they work. They often, in fact, live in the very same buildings they’ve built or renovated—because getting a home for yourself out of the deal is one way to afford to do these projects on a limited budget. They don’t have organized clout or speak with one voice, so they’re not The Developers™ in the same boogeyman sense that critics of outsized developer political influence usually mean.

Sharing your reading: finishing off Speck

(7th in a series about sharing your reading)
(and also relates to walkability)

If you aren’t reading, you may not be thinking. If you aren’t reading, you may not be growing. 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.

Notes from the back of the RCN bill envelope Gadfly used as a page marker for Jeff Speck’s, Walkability Rules (2018):

— “Where nobody walks, nobody supervises the public realm, and nobody gets to know their neighbors.”

— “It is only when we are outside of vehicles, and relatively safe from them, that the bonds of community can form.”

— “In well designed neighborhoods, the most convenient playground is no more than a five-minute walk away.”

— “City leaders . . . ask the wrong question about parking, which is, ‘how can we have enough of it?’ Nobody seemed to be asking the proper question: ‘how can parking be planned, provided, and managed to help cities thrive?'”

— Think about bus routes. Are there places the buses can’t take us but should? Gadfly thought about recreation areas. Should we have a bus that goes to Sand Island, for instance?

— “Bus frequency is key to ridership.” Every 10 minutes is comfort zone. Gadfly’s bus to work was every half-hour. It did feel a strain. “Removal of uncertainty [by more frequency] makes the wait more bearable.”

— Gadfly thought the bus rides themselves uncomfortable. Buses should be “more focused on hospitality than efficiency.” Wow!

— “Two-way [street] reversions are sweeping the nation.” Center? Linden? Always talk, no action.

— More timely bus service to New York? Phila? — how’s regional bus service from North St garage working out?

— “The more lanes a street has [or the wider it is], the more it feels like a highway.” Why is West Broad Street so broad? It’s a mini-MacArthur road situation. Could anything interesting be done there for beauty, for walkability? Something in the center?

— Speck cites Wyandotte St — the way the traffic pattern there killed the shops along the east side. Sad. Anything to be done?

— “Biking popularity is primarily a function of biking investment.” Gadfly knows the City has tried things over the years. Not much success?

— Gadfly idea: if we wanted to nudge a resurgence in biking, how about a program starting with kids biking to school where possible. Would mean protected lanes etc from neighborhoods to the schools. Let’s say a mile radius from William Penn.

— “Creating car-free streets and zones in our towns and cities must be a goal and even a priority if we truly value walkability.”

— “A great pedestrian mall lets you sit down for a drink while the children roam.”

— the “pedestrian scramble” intersection — Wheee!

— “Put street trees almost everywhere.”

— street trees: “almost always central  to making sidewalks safe, healthy, comfortable, and sustainable.”

— Thinking about trees/sidewalks made Gadfly think about streets in his childhood neighborhoods that were interesting to walk because of outside displays of wares. Pedestrians would stroll and linger. Has that kind of thing disappeared?

— “Park Day” — 3rd Friday in September — that would be September 20 — “people around the world reclaim parking spaces for humans, transforming what would normally be automobile storage places into places for hanging out.”

— What the word bankrupt means to developers: “I’ll make less money than I promised my investors.”

— “Pedestrians demand to be entertained.”

— “Exposed parking structures and blank walls must be kept away from would-be walkable areas.”

— ” public artwork can be a great remedial tool for salvaging problem areas from . . . ‘the great blight of dullness’.”

— “Active facades provide the street with interest and energy.”

— “Most retail facades should have some sort of awning. The goal is to blur the distinction between the shop and the sidewalk.”

— Got Gadfly thinking of unused or underutilized public spaces — and Payrow Plaza came to mind. Cf. what the Health  Dept Kristen Weinrich just did with that as recently reported here. Any other spaces come to mind that could be enlivened?

Wow! Gadfly thought a lot, grew a lot from reading Speck. Tip o’ the hat to Tony Hanna again for the recommendation.

What’s in your wallet, er, home library or on your bed-stand?

Sharing your reading: “hiding” the Polk Street Garage

(109th in a series of posts on parking)
(also 6th in a series about sharing your reading)
(and also relating to walkability too)

Jeff Speck: “Hide the parking structures. Exposed parking structures
do not belong next to sidewalks.”

(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

Jeff Speck: “Design parking structures for eventual conversion to human use.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

You have seen Gadfly gradually resigning himself to the fact of a $16.8m Polk Street Garage though there seem to be significant unanswered questions.


And turning his attention to its design.

And whining, If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

And wondering if the PSG is being designed in accord with goals other than simply warehousing cars, goals like walkability and Climate Action.

On the latter point, remember the recent letter of the Environmental Advisory Council to the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

Which brings him to Speck again.

Speck speaks of the now common practice of addressing walkability (street life) through  a parking structure with a ground floor of retail.

Note, for instance, that the new New Street Garage has a Police substation and a Southside Arts District office on ground level. Steps in the direction of providing a bit of street life there.

Note, too, widespread talk of the need to liven up in some similar fashion the long stretch of Walnut St. along the Walnut Street Garage when it is repaired or rebuilt.

This is all good, and Gadfly believes the BPA is planning for ground-floor retail with the PSG and is already soliciting tenants.

But Speck suggests that “many cities and developers have moved on to a better solution, which is to set the parking lot back slightly and hide it from view.” In Dallas, for instance, “a ring of apartments hides a large parking lot.”  It is “fully reasonable for cities to require hidden parking, and to stop allowing buildings to place parking up against would-be walkable streets.”

Interesting. Intriguing.

And let’s remember Councilman Reynolds’ good question discussed in the previous post on parking about the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous cars on the need for parking garages in the future. Reynolds — a young man — is kind of wondering if 20-30-40 years from now he and others will be wondering what to do with this damn underused building and why we built it in the first place!

Speck is on the same page with the Councilman:

The other mandate for the twenty-first century is to make parking lots convertible. If ride-hailing services — and eventually AVs — end up drastically reducing the need for parking, as predicted, we will wish that we had built all those parking structures with flat floors, removable ramps, and frames that can support human uses. Smart developers are doing it now.

As usual, all this is above Gadfly’s pay grade. He’s just trying to stir the pot. He’s concerned the PSG will be designed without sufficient public conversation and in isolation from wider community goals relating to the quality of life and long-term issues.

The follower Gadfly mentioned in the previous post has him thinking about bargaining chips. Perhaps a chip toward approval of the fine increase proposal might be assurance that the BPA will provide extensive public conversation over the PSG design and satisfaction that the design meets even non-technical city goals.

If you aren’t reading, you may not be growing. 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: 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 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.”


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.

Gadfly’s walkability study (28)

(28th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)
(also 2nd in a series about sharing your reading)

Followers might have picked up from a reference here and there recently that Gadfly is reading — slowly — Jeff Speck’s Walkable City (2012). Speck did a study in Bethlehem previous to the book, and our city and Mayor Callahan are mentioned several times in it.

Gadfly was intrigued by Speck’s reference to the website — Walk Score — that calculates neighborhood walkability.

Bethlehem has a walk score now of 55/100, not all that great, putting us in the “somewhat walkable” category.

Gadfly is not sure that we should put any stock in that score/label. Mr. Wu, who led the Northside 2027 project consultants, told him the site is not much regarded any more.

But it was the idea of credibly rating/grading a town’s walkability that Gadfly found quite provocative. Really? How would one do that? So inventive. And so useful, if only in a very general way.

The following caught his attention too.

Speck calls the automobile the single greatest contributor to our total carbon footprint and talks about a national movement back from suburban sprawl into cities. He almost goes as far as saying “location, location” is as important in the carbon emissions battle as it is in real estate sales.

“Location trumps building design.”

“The most green home (with Prius) in sprawl still loses out to the least green home in a walkable neighborhood.”

Speck’s idea is that if you have to drive into the sprawling suburbs to a sophisticatedly designed energy-efficient house, you are still losing the battle, not helping the cause.


Well, anyway, somewhere in thinking about these two Speck matters, Gadfly got the idea of trying to get the measure of the walkability of his neighborhood and his own carbon footprint in this respect.

For convenience sake, imagine the Gadflys living at the Moravian Zinzendorf statue at Main and Elizabeth.

Now here — using Google map numbers for mileage and walking time — is an inventory of Gadfly walkability.

Work (before retirement):

Lehigh University, 2.1 mi., 44 mins.


LANTA stop, New and Elizabeth, .2 mi., 4 mins.


LVIA,  3311 Airport Rd., 3.7 mi, 47 mins.

Heavy-duty shopping (though PeaPod delivery is now our choice):

Weiss Market Westgate Mall, 1.5 mi., 32 mins.

Light shopping:

Wawa, 1584 8th Ave., 1 mi., 21 mins.

Eat out/dinner/fancy:

Downtown Northside, 1 mi., 20 mins.

Eat out/dinner-breakfast/diner-style:

Rudy’s, 1406 Center, .3 mi., 6 mins.

Eat out/lunch:

Carl’s or Fratelli’s, New and Elizabeth, .2 mi., 4 mins.


Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Elizabeth and Linden, 1301 Linden, .6 mi., 12 mins.

Neighborhood bar:

Roosevelt’s, 21 E. Elizabeth, .2 mi., 4 mins.

Car service:

Ike’s Shell, 1310 Center St, .3 mi., 6 mins.

Dry Cleaners:

Bethlehem Star Cleaners, 1364 Linden St., .6 mi., 12 mins.

City Hall:

10 E. Church St., 1 mi., 22 mins.


Bethlehem Area Public Library, 11 W. Church St., 1 mi., 22 mins.


ArtsQuest, 101 Founders Way, 2.2 mi, 45 mins.

Physical exercise/recreation/biking:

Monocacy Way, Illick’s Mill, 1.2 mi., 26 mins.

Sand Island/D&L Trail, 1.4 mi., 28 mins.

Park (kid’s/grandkids):

Heimple Park, Atwood and Memorial, .7 mi., 14 mins.

Elementary school:

William Penn, 1002 Main St., .4 mi., 7 mins.

Middle School:

Northeast, 1170 Fernwood St., 1.2 mi., 24 mins.

High School:

Liberty, 1115 Linden St., .9 mi., 19 mins.


Lehigh Valley Friends, 4116 Bath Pike, 3 mi., 1 hr.


St. Luke’s, 801 Ostrum, 2.1, 45 mins.

Muhlenberg, 2545 Schoenersville Rd., 2.3 mi., 47 mins.


Family, 3445 High Point Blvd, 3.1 mi., 1 hr-5 mins.

Specialist, 1469 8th Ave., 1.1 mi, 23 mins.

Dentist, 4887 Hanoverville Rd., 4.7 mi., 1hr-36 mins.

Eye, 800 Eaton Ave., .8 mi., 18 mins.

Gadfly would rate his walkability pretty good. A good many of his contact points are walkable. And he is 4 mins. from a bus stop that will get him to important farther flung locations.

The keystone to his walkability was being able to walk to work, which he did (and bus), for almost 50 years. That enabled him to be a one-car family all those years. He has never owned two cars. He joked about being the last one-car family in North America.

Unfortunately, close walkable destinations west — like to Wawa and the eye and heart doctors — are hampered by lack of sidewalks on Elizabeth Ave. down the Paint Mill hill and up Schoenersville. Boo!

Unfortunately, his family doctor and dentist  — who were just .2 mi away — heard the siren call of Sprawl and are not even reachable now by bus. He should fix their wagons by changing practices.

This is an interesting exercise. Gadfly recommends trying it.

But the personal insight is that though he is positioned pretty well for walkability, Gadfly doesn’t always take advantage (and it is an advantage: health, money, climate action benefit, etc.).

Gadfly is going to try to put even more walking in his life.

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: the walkable city (1)

(1st in a series of posts on sharing your reading)

from Jeff Speck, Walkable City (courtesy of Tony Hanna)

“Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure. While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality. . . . Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow.”

‘The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability.”

“If they are to function properly, cities need to be planned by generalists.”

“What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to the cities.”

“The automobile is not only the single greatest contributor to our total carbon footprint but also a reliable predictor of that total.”

“We are a destructive species, and if you love nature, stay away from it. The best means of protecting the environment is to live in the heart of the city.”

“In most of our nation, the car is no longer an instrument of freedom, but rather a bulky, expensive, and dangerous prosthetic device, a prerequisite to viable citizenship.”

Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — pertinent to the Gadfly project of conversation about Bethlehem.