The most comprehensive look at housing in Lancaster County has been completed and now available to the public. The Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), with assistance from the Lancaster County Planning Commission (LCPC), hired the team of Zimmerman/Volk Associates, Sarcinello Planning & GIS and Thomas Comitta Associates to complete the Lancaster County Housing Market Analysis and Needs Study.

The Study provides an analysis of housing preferences and needs across the County going into the future based on extensive data collected and then use of a proprietary target market methodology developed by Laurie Volk and used by her firm around the country over the past two decades. In addition to providing a large amount of facts and figures, the analysis revealed interesting demographic, market and economic trends and outlined several challenges that the County faces now and in the future.

Consultants Laurie Volk and Nanci Sarcinello presented a synopsis of findings and warnings during the opening plenary session of the County Housing Summit coordinated by LHOP on Tuesday, October 22 at the Double Tree Resort in Willow Street. Many in the audience commented that the information was “eye opening and thought provoking,” stated Ray D’Agostino, LHOP Executive Director.

Housing affordability was raised as major concern in the Analysis. A significant mis-match between demand for rental opportunities by income versus supply of affordable rental housing exists today and could affect economic growth in the County. Adding to the concern is the fact that close to half the renter households are cost-burdened, that is paying more than 30% of their income on housing. In fact, when adding transportation costs, that number jumps to 72% of all households being cost burdened in the County. This issue is predicted to worsen if both an increase in multi-family housing and efforts to ensure affordability in key locations around the County are not addressed.

Summit Chair Bob Thomas President of Tabor Community Services and Board member of LHOP, during his luncheon remarks, noted how much a shortage of affordable housing is already contributing to housing problems and homelessness for County residents with lower incomes.

County Commissioner Chair Scott Martin in his brief remarks during Summit also referenced the need for more affordable housing in our community so that individuals such as his own children will be able to live here when they begin to look for housing in the not too distant future.

According to Volk, “empty-nesters, retirees and young singles and couples” make up 73% of the households in the County today which will equate to 69% of the market potential for housing over the next five years. This is particularly important given the similar market preference of these two disparate age groups…that being small homes for sale or rental opportunities in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Volk states that there is an “enormous need for affordable and market-rate rental housing throughout the county.” A further breakdown of the market potential reveals that 57% of the market will be owner households while 43% will be renters. A challenge identified is the fact that 75% of all housing building permits over the past 4 years have been for single-family ownership housing while only 21% has been multi-family rental. However, there is nothing to suggest that this trend will change without changes to zoning and other land use regulations around the County.

Due to a mismatch between existing housing stock and market preferences over the next several years coupled with housing affordability issues, Volk warns that economic stagnation and declining housing values could be a challenge we face as a County in the near future if such issues are not addressed.

However, as noted by Tom Baldrige, keynote speaker at the County Housing Summit, the Lancaster community can rise to meet these challenges to provide the right type of decent, safe and affordable housing for everyone.

Of particular interest to many in the field of housing is the large collection of data available in the Analysis. Of particular note for municipal officials is that an analysis in table format is included for each of the 60 municipalities in the County. Data regarding housing in the County, ranging from home sales, multi-family rental rates, age and condition of existing housing to the average number bedrooms and persons per home are reported in the study. In addition, it provides data on the County’s economy, jobs, income and transportation costs.

The full report also provides a unique tool, known as a raster analysis, which uses demographic and geographic data in layers to recommend areas most suitable for affordable housing. This tool has been provided to the LCPC for use in future analysis for the County and the public.

The Analysis was funded in part by a capacity building grant from the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund of the U.S. Treasury to LHOP, which is a certified CDFI. The Analysis was necessary to know the housing needs in our community and how LHOP, which was formed almost 20 years ago, to lead the effort in addressing housing affordability in the County.

“Now that we have the Housing Analysis and data, LHOP has hired a specialized consultant to develop a business and capitalization plan which will outline new loan products and other tools that we can put in to place as a CDFI to address not only housing affordability across the County but in taking care of our significant aging housing stock in low to moderate income neighborhoods,” states D’Agostino.

D’Agostino used the occasion of completion of the Housing Analysis and the Housing Summit and to announce the formation of a new initiative by LHOP to be known as “LHIFT,” the Lancaster Housing Investment Fund and Trust. “This will be a fund where the Lancaster community can invest in a critical piece of our infrastructure, housing, and then leverage that local investment with CDFI funds through the U.S. Treasury,” stated D’Agostino. LHOP hopes to “launch LHIFT” by the summer of next year, fittingly during its 20th anniversary.

A copy of the full Lancaster County Housing Market Analysis as well as the presentation made by Laurie Volk, lead consultant, at the Housing Summit are available for viewing and download on the right.