Just some news about some cities.
Are you interested in learning about cities from the people that run them and think about them for a living? Keystone Crossroads is having a conference, and we’d love for you to be there. In addition to topic-specific panels, Gov. Tom Wolf and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale will be speaking to the whole conference. If that’s not enough to sell you, breakfast and lunch are included. Online registration is live!
Now, to the news.
We don’t have enough affordable housing
Nationally, there is, in the words of CityLab, an “appalling affordable housing deficit.” There is no county in the entire country that doesn’t have a shortage of affordable housing. And there are currently only 31 affordable housing units for every 100 low-income households in the United States.
NPR has been focusing on the effects of this deficiency in their new series, Staving Off Eviction. The stories focus on the unfortunate choices low-income families find themselves faced with, like picking safe housing or affordable housing. As the series points out, there’s been an increase in the number of working poor, people facing eviction despite their often full-time jobs.
So, how does Pennsylvania stack up? We’re a bit better than average, but that’s not saying much. The commonwealth still only has 35 affordable housing units per 100 low-income families. As we’ve reported, you would have to earn $14.21 an hour, working full-time, to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Pennsylvania. The state minimum wage is set at $7.25, though there are signs that both the private and public sector are considering modifying that.
Some in Pennsylvania have found their own creative solutions to the affordable housing crisis. Lancaster County has one of top five tightest real estate markets in the country, according to Lancaster Online. Over half of the county pays more than they can afford for housing. That’s why it was such a big deal when 60 affordable apartments opened in Manor Twp., a suburb of Lancaster city. It took tax credits, some creative marketing and a lot of perseverance, but when one resident moved in, she said, “I cried. It was beautiful.”
Community land trusts are one way that non-profits are approaching this deficit. It’s a relatively new concept in Pennsylvania, but one that has been successful elsewhere: the CLT buys land and either builds or renovates a house on the property. They then sell the house, keeping the land in the trust. That reduces cost to the home buyer and guarantees the land will be kept for affordable housing. This week, 10 individual CLTs across the state banded together to form a coalition, hoping to learn from each other and to expand the idea across the commonwealth.
We have too much lead
We’ve been covering the ongoing lead problem in Pennsylvania cities since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But let’s go back even further. How did we end up with so much lead in our pipes and paint? Way back when, no one knew about the dangers of lead, so it was used in just about everything you can think of. Even when the dangers became apparent, it took a while to get the substance banned.
And how did those dangers become apparent? You have Herbert Needleman to thank for that. The Philadelphia doctor was the first to uncover the connection between small amounts of lead and development difficulties in young children. (You get credit too, Steelers fans: Needleman later worked at Pitt.)
Once he discovered the effect that lead had on children, Needleman became obsessed with removing the threat. Lydia Denworth, a Needleman biographer, said he found himself “looking at all the faces of the kids who were in the apartment buildings and houses and playing on the street and beginning to wonder just how many of those children were lead poisoned.”
Lead has since been banned in gasoline, pipes and paint, as well as countless other sources of the toxin. But 40 years after Needleman discovered this connection, the threat remains. Three Lehigh Valley schools had their water shut off this week over concerning lead levels in the water. The water was deemed safe after additional tests, but it can be very tricky to get an accurate read on lead levels in water.
Most school systems are not required to test for lead in their water, but this may prove to be the next battlefield for anti-lead work. Newark, New Jersey, public schools found widespread lead in their water supply this month. Jersey City, N.J., has been battling the scourge for a few years. Baltimore public schools have been using bottled water since 2007, since removing the lead pipes would be too expensive. A recent proposal by the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus suggests increasing testing requirements for schools and day care facilities here in Pa.
We have an election on the way
If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you missed the boat for the primary. The deadline was March, and frankly, Pennsylvania couldn’t have made it easier for you. The state rolled out online registration for the first time this year, meaning you didn’t even have to put on pants to (take the first step to) participate in democracy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the service was most popular amongst voters under the age of 24, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds.
Another group that registered in large numbers was Latinos. In Lancaster over the weekend, volunteers helped members of the Latino community register for both parties, and other cities saw similar turnout.
The Allentown Morning Call reports a record-number of voters switching party affiliation in advance of the primary, as well. Most of the shift is in the favor of the GOP from the Democrats, but sheer numbers might not tell the whole story. Some of the changes could be long overdue, as online registration makes it much easier to switch your affiliation. But it could also be due to the exceptional presidential primary happening this year. Some voters may be drawn to Donald Trump, and thus the GOP, or they may be hoping to unseat him by gathering support behind another candidate.
As Valerie Bonacci of Scranton told the Morning Call, “I think Hillary has [the Democratic primary election] pretty wrapped up here in Pennsylvania, so for my vote during the primary to have any kind of effect, it could be best used by voting for Kasich.”
Experts seem divided on the effect that all this party switching will have on the election. The good news? We’ll have our answer on the evening of April 26.
We have a winner!
A huge congratulations to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto for being named a “Tweet Elite.” Marketing firm DCI identified the mayors who are most adept at using Twitter, and Peduto came in third, after Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC. Peduto uses Twitter to share articles, communicate with residents and point out the work his administration is doing across the city.
In honor of this impressive designation, I’d like to offer my all-time favorite Bill Peduto tweet:
Last night I had a dream that dogs could talk. Don't remember much more about it, but they could talk. All of them & I just found out.
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) February 9, 2016
Allentown mayor Ed Pawlowski placed in a specific category, frequency of tweets per day. Pawlowski tweets more per day, on average, than any other mayor in America. This did not earn him a place on the list of 50 mayors who have mastered Twitter, though. In social media, as in life, quality trumps quantity every time.