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Dawn Godshall's 2023 Annual Meeting Speech: Affirming Affordable Housing is a Human Right

Updated: Jan 16

We are Community Action:

Community Action Lehigh Valley is an anti-poverty nonprofit with a mission to improve the quality of life by building communities in which all people have access to economic opportunity, the ability to pursue that opportunity, and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. We offer programs and services in advocacy, business start-up and development, food access and nutrition, housing, neighborhood revitalization, and youth. We have more than a dozen programs of which you can find out more about all the great things we accomplished this past year inside the Annual Report.

We’re here to address a pressing issue that is not just a Lehigh Valley issue, but one that is looming across our country. The issue of affordable housing is not just a problem; it's a crisis. It's a challenge that, if left unaddressed, will continue to affect the well-being of individuals and families from all walks of life right here in the Lehigh Valley. 

Affordable housing is more than just a catchphrase; it's a vital cornerstone of any thriving community.  To truly be affordable, housing should consume no more than 30% of a family's income. Unfortunately, this benchmark remains out of reach for many, as the demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply.

According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, renters make up nearly 86,000 – or one in three – households in the Lehigh Valley.  Even as more rental units are built, prices have increased.  While higher-end luxury apartments cater to a portion of the region’s renters, it is vital to ensure that affordable units are also available to meet the housing needs of low-to moderate-income residents.  

A lack of affordable options forces families to allocate a disproportionate share of their income to housing expenses, leaving less for other essential needs such as food, healthcare, and education. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty that is challenging to break without adequate housing assistance. Since the affordable housing crisis began to peak, our Second Harvest Food Bank has seen a 44% increase in food distribution. 

Tackling Homelessness and Alleviating Poverty:

Community Action’s Sixth Street Shelter is also feeling the impact of the housing crisis. Homelessness is especially hard on children, disrupting a child's sense of stability and security, making it challenging for them to develop a sense of belonging and attachment. 

We are grateful, however, that because of the stellar staff at Community Action’s Sixth Street Shelter, there are positive stories that arise, even during these trying times. 

We’re proud of the good outcomes that our programs produce.  And while we love telling positive stories, the stark reality is that the Sixth Street Shelter’s participants as a whole have been severely impacted by the housing crisis.  The Shelter was designed to provide a safe and productive place for families facing homelessness for up to 90 days. However, families are staying far longer – sometimes up to a year - because they can't find affordable housing to which they can transition. Having families move out after 60 to 90 days makes room for other homeless families to get the help they need.  So as the crisis escalates, so does homelessness.

I’m sure most of you know this, but unbelievably, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is still $7.25 per hour, although the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.  We must increase wages as an additional measure to help families afford rent and food and utilities, and the ability to support their households. The Fair Market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Valley is about $1,400 a month. That means each household earning the minimum wage must have two to three full-time jobs in that household to make ends meet. 

But we are not here to despair. We are here to act…to make a difference…and to bring about change. Addressing the affordable housing crisis in the Lehigh Valley necessitates a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach. In addition to supporting higher wages, we must work to increase the housing supply, explore rent control measures, and strengthen tenant protections. We must promote mixed-income housing developments and establish community land trusts to ensure that land remains affordable in perpetuity.  Implementing rent control measures and strengthening tenant protections is essential to prevent unjustified rent increases and evictions. Promoting mixed-income housing developments can create diverse communities while providing affordable options for those in need, reducing the stigma associated with affordable housing. Tax incentives could also incentivize developers to invest in affordable housing projects.

Addressing this crisis requires a collaborative effort from policymakers, developers,

nonprofit organizations, and the community at large. Grants and subsidies can help these organizations expand their reach and impact. Community Action is one of those nonprofits which emphatically cares about its neighbors.

Affordable Housing Solutions in Allentown

Many landlords also experienced losses during and after the pandemic, some not able to pay their own mortgages due to the loss of rental income from properties they owned or leased.  We have to take that into consideration as well. But during what was a trying time for many, some landlords took advantage of a looming opportunity. Government money was flowing. Some saw an opportunity to raise prices, leaving many renters with few options.  They either worked harder and longer hours to make up for the increase, or, faced eviction.   

But make no mistake. There ARE good guys in this fight.  Landlords who understand the importance of providing affordable housing for hard-working people. Property owners who could easily cash in on the high demand for housing. But who instead care enough to make some of their properties affordable to those who need it. 

Emergency Rental Assistance Programming:

In 2021 we were honored to partner with Lehigh County and Catholic Charities as the fiscal agent for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program known as ERAP. ERAP was established as part of the American Rescue Plan to help families who were directly or indirectly impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic. In January of 2022 we took over full administration of the program and were able to assist over 3,000 households, providing a total of more than $41 million in rental assistance to our most vulnerable community members. Community Action welcomed the opportunity to get involved, as helping our community is one of our main goals. Let’s hear from two tenants who benefited from ERAP.

Although, this program has saved many families from eviction, and ultimately homelessness, it has also shed light on a deeper problem in our community. Many families simply can no longer afford housing in this area. Rental costs have been steadily increasing in the Lehigh Valley since the pandemic.

So, this is a call to action. Why? Because affordable housing shouldn't be a luxury; it IS a human right. It's the foundation of a thriving, inclusive, and compassionate community. Together, we can ensure that all our residents have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing options. This is our call to action, our duty, and our opportunity to make a difference. Join us to brainstorm on how to do this together…shoulder to shoulder, to build a brighter and more equitable future for the Lehigh Valley.

Thank you to all our Staff at Community Action, without whom we would not be able to do the GREAT work that we do. They are true heroes to our organization and to our community! 

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