|Housing Market Profiles|
| Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania
The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan area, in eastern Pennsylvania, is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for the Northern New Jersey and New York City areas. Population in the metropolitan area continues to increase because of the significant in-migration of families from higher cost areas. From 1990 to 2000 the population in the metropolitan area increased by an average of 4,290 persons each year. Since 2000 the population has increased approximately 4,960 persons annually. Because of its proximity to New Jersey growth in Northampton County is outpacing that in adjacent Lehigh County, with increases of 2,570 and 2,150 people per year, respectively.
Commuting from the Allentown area has been made easier by Interstate 78, which provides easy access to several employment centers in New Jersey and New York City. During the 1990s net in-migration in the area was estimated to average 2,900 annually. Since 2000 net in-migration has increased to approximately 4,100 annually. Data from the 2000 Census indicate that at least 52,500 people living in the metropolitan area commute outside the area to work. The area is also home to several colleges and universities, including Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Lafayette College. According to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation two of the top three employers in the area are the Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network and St. Lukes Hospital.
Since 2000 the unemployment rate has been increasing. For the most recent 12-month period ending May 2003 the unemployment rate was 6.0 percent compared with 5.1 percent a year ago. Total nonfarm employment declined 0.6 percent during the period. The largest decline occurred in the manufacturing sector, but gains in the service-providing sectors offset some of the loss. The largest gains during the period occurred in the education and health services sectors. Because of its transportation network and its proximity to New York City, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg, the metropolitan area has grown as a warehousing and distribution center.
The Allentown area housing market remains strong. The Lehigh Valley Association of REALTORS®, which covers Northampton and Lehigh Counties, reports that new and existing home sales totaled 3,489 during first 6 months of 2003 compared with 3,476 from the first half of 2002. The average time for a home to be on the market fell from 57 days in the first half of 2002 to 44 days in the first half of 2003, with the average sales price for a home in the first half of 2003 at $166,000. According to a representative from the Lehigh Valley Builders Association much of the new sales housing in Northampton and Lehigh Counties is in the $200,000 to $250,000 range. During the 12 months ending June 2003 permits were issued for approximately 2,600 single-family homes in the 2 counties, not substantially above the activity for the same period a year earlier. The greatest activity in Lehigh County has been in the Upper Macungie, Lower Macungie, North Whitehall, and Upper Saucon communities. In Northampton County much of the activity has been in Bethlehem Township, Forks Township, Palmer Township, and Lower Saucon. Although the strong market has meant substantial increases in sales prices the metropolitan area remains very affordable compared with markets in Northern New Jersey and the New York City area. The affordability of homes and the availability of developable sites ensure that the sales market will remain strong in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan area.
The rental market in the metropolitan area remains balanced. Since 2000 the vacancy rate has increased as a result of some softening attributed to the shift of households to homeownership. The softer conditions are most evident in newer luxury-style apartment developments. Renters are taking advantage of low interest rates, and most new households moving to the area are looking to buy, not rent. Developers have responded to the more competitive market conditions, reducing activity. Permits were issued for 317 multifamily units during the 12-month period ending June 2003, a 24-percent decline from the comparable period a year earlier. Given the current lower level of apartment production the market should tighten during the next 2 years.
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