DeSales University hosts housing summit
The 2018 Regional Housing Summit: “A Home for Everyone” was held at the DeSales University Center Feb. 8, convening employees from organizations across the Lehigh Valley. Presented by Lehigh County and New Bethany Ministries, the summit addressed issues of affordable housing, homelessness, the economy and the interrelatedness of these issues.
New Bethany Ministries Executive Director and Affordable Housing Committee Chair Diane Elliott began by asking the audience a question: “Why are we here?” Over the course of her presentation, she answered this inquiry, drawing on recent newspaper headlines, statistics and reports.
“We have some major, major issues in the Lehigh Valley,” Elliott said. “People say we don’t have homelessness, we don’t have these issues where we live. … Almost every single one of our municipalities has an issue.”
She cited facts that the Allentown metro area has the highest rent to income ratio in the U.S., that improving wages have not risen at a level to keep up with the increasing rates of rents and housing, that there are insufficient numbers of supportive services and an inadequate system of transportation.
She also reminded the audience that the homeless are not the only people impacted by this. The elderly, working poor, young professionals, youth, disabled, veterans, victims of domestic abuse, the lower-middle class, the middle class and those whose rents are rising above what they can afford are also impacted by the issues presented at the summit.
Other speakers addressed problems with the Fair Housing Act, group homes, zoning, other models of affordable housing and the personal stories of individuals who previously struggled with homelessness.
Keynote speaker Kamran Afshar, Ph.D. focused his presentation on economic statistics, referencing graphs to highlight changes in the economy over recent years and predict what they might look like in coming years. He spoke about the country’s move towards efficiency with new inventions, using examples such as the AmazonGo Store, self-driving cars, Uber’s Otto self-driving semi-trucks and new uses for drones. Although more efficient, many of these innovations are predicted to eliminate jobs.
“This is real, this is what’s coming,” Afshar said. “This is the direction we are moving in. A lot of jobs that were professional, where you use your brains and use computers to help you, are now moving in the realm of computers. So many of these jobs will become obsolete over time. … It is a change that is coming and the first part of it is going to hit the economy, demand for housing, demand for [a] variety of different things.”
Even at present, with these positions largely still occupied by humans rather than machines, the demand for housing is still a struggle for many. Estefania Perdomo attested to this in an emotional presentation about her own life experiences.
“Here I am at 26 years old, and I did all the right things. Honor roll in high school, I got into Lehigh [University], which is a great thing, and then graduating and find[ing] out that I can’t afford housing,” Perdomo said.
She shared that even as a single woman with no children and a steady income, trying to juggle student loan debt, car payments, gas, groceries and rent became impossible.
“You’re in this moment where you feel like I did all the right things and I just want a place where I can just be at peace, a place that I can count on every night,” she said. “I want to stay in Bethlehem because my heart is here.”
Elliot and Paulette Gilfoil, CDBG program coordinator of Lehigh County, urged those present at the summit to continue conversing on these subjects even after the roundtable discussion groups were over.
“So why are we here?” Elliott asked again. “Because no one sector can do this by themselves.”