Most people agree that citizens have certain rights which cannot be denied to them on any account, whether it be race, gender, or economic status. A not-so-frequently-discussed but dire issue is the number of families that face homelessness. In any twenty-first-century society, even people born into unfortunate circumstances deserve roofs over their heads. The housing market, especially in Bethlehem, is in an extremely bad state, with even middle-class families struggling to find affordable houses or apartments. The Rider-Pool Foundation states that over one-third of Lehigh Valley housing units have problems, often including overcrowding. Even as a 16-year-old student in Bethlehem, I have seen families being forced to cram people into undersized housing units just to save money on their rent or mortgage. Clearly, we need a solution.
Bethlehem needs to greatly expand opportunities for affordable housing. There has been an influx of high-end, high-profit apartments that exacerbate the problem. What we need is low-cost or even subsidized housing for the least fortunate. Of course, providing housing for the poor is important, but the goal is for these people to eventually outgrow the need for these services; it’s not just about securing housing for those who need it, it’s about keeping these families secure in the long-term.
Many children born into poverty consider themselves unable to attend college or trade school because of their financial situation, leading to a vicious cycle of housing insecurity and homelessness. Bethlehem can alleviate these problems by providing low-cost housing and education opportunities.
Any idea—especially political ones—may face backlash. Housing solutions may be opposed by developers concerned about reduced profit. One large developer, Ashley Development Corporation, claims on their website to have developed $200 million of single and multi-family projects since 1989. Reduced profits may hurt developers—but what kind of society prioritizes company profits over the well-being of citizens? While many people today support the idea of public housing, they may raise objections when it comes to creating low-cost housing options in existing residential areas.
To make progress, we need a compromise approach. The city could restrict certain areas for public housing only. Co-location of affordable housing with existing market-priced units would be very beneficial, creating integrated neighborhoods throughout our city. We can get the ball rolling by organizing a peaceful rally or meetup at Bethlehem’s City Hall to spread awareness about housing and homelessness issues.
The city should ask local colleges, universities, and vocational institutes (such as Northampton Community College, Moravian University, Lincoln Technical School, and Lehigh University) to work with the children of these families and provide financial aid or other programs for those in need. This will help children coming up from the less fortunate families to have greater access to resources and employment possibilities.
Fortunately, organizations such as Habitat for Humanity are already working for change. Habitat helps people who need housing to build compact houses with the help of Habitat for Humanity volunteers. These houses are modestly-sized, to keep the cost low; they tend to have three bedrooms and cover a total of about 1,000 square feet. Another organization doing its part for the housing crisis is Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering, which consists of a group of churches dedicated to feeding, sheltering and caring for the homeless, and housing people during the coldest months of the year. We are lucky to have such organizations, but the systemic problem of homelessness still pervades everyday life.
Bethlehem’s housing problem is a serious issue, and many working-class families struggle to pay the rent. While some disagree about how to alleviate this problem, the City of Bethlehem needs to ensure that affordable and low-cost housing is available and work with educational institutions to increase opportunities for those in need. Even high school students can help create change by attending a rally a or signing a petition.
As citizens, we have a moral responsibility to do our part in improving the world around us, and in the Lehigh Valley, tackling the problem of homelessness is a perfect way to start.
Christopher is a junior at Liberty High School. He is very involved in school organizations, including instrumental music programs and the Liberty chapter of the National Honor Society, a service organization focused on improving the community.
Editors note: In addition to the organizations named above, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), the Community Action Development Corporation (CADCB), and New Bethany Ministries all provide extensive services to the homeless and housing-insecure people in Bethlehem.
- SLV 2023 Table of Contents
- Voices of the Valley – Alphabetic List of Authors
- Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet