Sunday, January 24, 2010

Action needed to mitigate local housing shortage

January 24, 2010

There is an affordable rental housing crisis in Bradford County.

Quality rental stock never was abundant here and about, but the situation has worsened with the influx of natural gas workers here to tap the bountiful resource of the Marcellus Shale, perhaps the world's largest natural gas play.

Due to that influx, the rents for housing in the Bradford County area have doubled, tripled or gone up even higher, according to testimony Thursday at a state Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee hearing in the Towanda area. That means apartments that a couple of years ago were renting for $400 could now be costing $1,200 or more.

Local families, by and large, cannot afford such steep rents. Worse, reports now are common about landlords who are evicting local tenants, some of them with long tenures, so that gas company workers who are willing to pay the boosted rents can move in.

It is a development that has outraged many area residents, renters and non-renters alike, although some others have praise for the workings of the laws of supply and demand.

But, when any system endangers the well-being of a community-at-large, as may be the case in the Towanda area, for example, the need for controls becomes imperative. Self discipline, of course, would be best, but clearly that is not happening universally at this time.

There is no statewide rent control legislation in Pennsylvania although some cities have it. But, better than struggling to create such an additional bureaucracy would be for the free enterprise system to make way for entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace to build additional affordable housing.

The gas industry is here for the long haul, decades according to industry experts. Surely, the circumstances are ripe for builders, bankers and others to take advantage of the possibilities.

Plans could include providing tax breaks and incentives to businesses to build more housing. State Senate Committee member Gene Yaw, whose district includes Bradford County, said the state should help increase the amount of rental properties available.

"If we could redirect what we're already spending and what we're doing into the areas that it really needs to go then we've made some tremendous steps forward," Yaw said.

We agree and encourage him, Rep. Tina Pickett, whose district also includes Bradford County, another member of the committee, and the legislature as a whole, to move ahead on this vital issue. Time is of the essence.


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