Bethlehem Housing Authority
The National Housing Act (1937) was one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first tries to make better the living conditions of Americans badly affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Bethlehem's Housing Authority was one of the first in the nation. Robert Nuemeyer became the Authority's first executive director in 1939. BHA's first board consisted of chairman (and mayor) Robert Pfeifle, Weir Jepson, Merritt Kreidler, Lt. Colonel William Coyle and Andrew W. Litzenberger.
The first thing the BHA built was "low-income public housing". That means the houses were built for people who did not earn a lot of money, and they were not built to be sold to make money. The new houses were called Pembroke Village. They were on reclaimed farmland in the northeast part of the city. This area was near the border with the boroughs of Freemansburg, Steel City and Bethlehem Township.
Pembroke Village was planned to have 202 houses or apartments, and a community building/office. At about this time, the US entered into World War II. The war meant there was very little building in the US. But Bethlehem Steel's factory was more or less turned over completely toward providing goods for the war effort. Thousands of workers were brought into Bethlehem to help the plant work for 24 hours a day. This meant a lot of houses were needed in the city. The government and the housing authority got extra land and built three communities as "temporary war housing". 700 homes for these workers were built at Parkridge, South Terrace and Clearfield. Pembroke Village was hurried to completion and its 202 units were set aside as "permanent war housing", meaning that at the end of the war, Pembroke would revert to low-income housing, while the others would be demolished.
After the end of WWII, Bethlehem had another housing crisis. Men were leaving the armed forces and going back home. From about the start of 1946, the population of the United States increased greatly. In Bethlehem the city population increased from 50,000 to 75,000 by 1960.
This meant that a lot of affordable housing was needed. The BHA decided to keep the Parkridge, South Terrace and Clearfield units and use them as public housing.
The BHA also planned to build another 500 - 600 units next to Pembroke on a former family farm along Pembroke Road. These buildings would increase Bethlehem's public housing stock to more than 1,400 units.
By June of 1950, firms had offered to build Fairmount for $962,000.00. By the end of the year, the Marvine Village bid was also approved for $3.9 million. A lot of the Fairmount project was paid for by the State of Pennsylvania. It stayed part of the state's housing inventory until the late 1970s.
By 1952, Mr. Nuemeyer became ill and stepped down. He was replaced by Ralph J. Bartholomew, who was a longtime member of the banking community. During Mr. Bartholomew's tenure, the housing authority started an expansion program designed to help the growing needs of the elderly population.
1960 - 1974[change | change source]
In 1962, BHA showed plans for its first development designed for older people. The Robert Pfeifle Homes, was a 50 unit community in the northeast area. It had ten buildings. They were among the very first of their type in the United States. In the next ten years, the BHA would design and build more public housing for seniors, including the Litzenberger House, the Bodder Building and the Bartholomew Building and the Monocacy Tower. BHA www.bha645.com now has some 450 apartments to serve the older adults in need of affordable housing.
At around this time, Mr. Bartholomew died and his successor was brought in from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Frank V. Loretti, with a background in labor relations became the BHA's third director.
1974 - 2003[change | change source]
Frank Loretti wanted to modernize the way the authority worked and was organized. He wanted to use computers for the authority's records and other functions. In addition, the board wanted to begin an authority-wide building modernization program.
During this time a plan was formulated to address the authority's aging infrastructure. The war-time era South Terrace, Parkridge and Clearfield projects were demolished. South Terrace and Parkridge were rebuilt between 1985 and 1991 and all other buildings were modernized, using capital fund money, which was made available by the federal government.
Also during this period, various management functions were centralized for greater organization and efficiency. The maintenance shops were also centralized within one modern facility in 1978. A Central Supply facility was dedicated in 1977.
Today[change | change source]
The current executive director is Clara A. Kendy (2004). Today, BHA's challenge is similar to all other housing agencies. Federal subsidy reductions of up to 15% have caused housing authorities to become leaner and to look toward innovation in order to succeed.
BHA has several new ideas, including homeownership initiatives where the authority connects eligible tenants with opportunities to help them own their own home. One such example is a partnership with Habitat For Humanity. Economic self-sufficiency is a goal that BHA continuously tries to help its residents achieve.
Today, the Bethlehem Housing Authority manages 1,430 conventional housing units within ten developments serving the city of Bethlehem. In addition, there are nearly 500 Housing Choice Vouchers available for eligible families. HCV was formerly known as "Section 8" housing. The authority also has various recreational and social programs for tenants of all ages.
In 2007, BHA's new First Tee Golf Learning program received a national merit award, recognizing it as an innovative recreation/learning program for children. During its 70th anniversary in 2009, it proudly broke ground for a brand new community in northeast Bethlehem. The first "Bayard Homes" will be rented during the first months of the year (2011).