As we approach the anniversary of Hurricane Ida, which struck the City of Lambertville with particular severity, it is incumbent on us to reflect on the impact Ida had and is still having on the city’s stock of affordable and lower income rental housing, where “affordable” refers to families with a household income of at least $75K and “lower income” refers to families with income of less than half that amount.
Among the many reasons this group of people should be of particular interest to the community is that the hospitality, dining and related businesses which are the backbone of Lambertville’s tourism-driven economy rely heavily on the availability of an experienced and capable essential workforce, who in turn rely on the availability of affordable and low income rental housing in and around the immediate vicinity of Lambertville to be able to work, raise their children and continue contributing to the overall well-being of the community at large.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the community united to mount a generous and effective effort to provide people with the means to find and occupy emergency shelter. We know that dozens of families lost everything and we know that — while some of those affected were ultimately able to recoup their losses and return home — an unknown and probably significant number were not so fortunate. So, what has happened to those less fortunate? Who are they and where are they today?
At the moment — barring there being an accurate accounting by the city of those who remained homeless — there appear to be no definitive answers to these questions. What is emerging through unofficial channels, however, is a picture of unrelieved scarcity and mounting pressure on essential workers.
Lest we be tempted to think that our essential workforce has been and will always be largely transient, Fisherman’s Mark — on whose board I serve — has recently conducted focus group sessions with a number of current and long-term residents, many of whom have been our neighbors for decades, who now find themselves doubled up in cramped housing with friends and neighbors; stressed; and either at or nearing the point of having to give up and move elsewhere in search of a sustainable home and work environment. This would be a tragedy for the community, for a whole host of reasons.
The bottom line is that providing a more affordable housing stock for those upon whom we, our business community and our community at large rely for fundamental and essential work, is part and parcel of protecting the lifeblood of the community at large. It is much more than just compliance with fair housing regulations — it literally makes or breaks who we are and how successful our community can expect to be going forward.
Joe Falconi lives in Upper Makefield.