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Notes from the Field

Lessons in Rowing in the Same Direction

Stakeholders in Erie, Pennsylvania, are collaborating on initiatives to address the region’s challenges.

Reflecting on a series of visits to Erie, Pennsylvania, this year, I find that one of my most notable takeaways is the passion and commitment to the region of those working in community development. Many of the Erie stakeholders we’ve met with mention the great quality of life the region offers—including the affordability of the market, its amenities (including recreation opportunities the lake provides), and the creative spirit of its residents. Erie has its share of community development issues that need to be addressed, such as pockets of blight within communities, the lack of sufficient jobs for its residents, and the need for better land-use strategies for future development. However, Erie stakeholders are also making a number of positive investments that will benefit the future of the region. The mere fact that multiple stakeholder groups are organizing to address these issues demonstrates that Erie is moving in a positive direction.

Community Development Issues

Similar to many smaller, older industrial cities facing like challenges, Erie leaders are placing a considerable emphasis on housing and economic opportunity. The City of Erie has an oversupply of housing, as well as more than 4,000 vacant lots. Additionally, there appears to be a spatial mismatch between the areas in which residents live and available housing. Erie’s downtown district, for example, sports very low vacancy. According to local developers, market–rate rental housing in this district—filled for the most part with empty nesters and young professionals—has a vacancy rate of less than 2 percent. At the same time, developers report shortages in affordable rental options. It is worth noting that, according to some reports, approximately 92 percent of new homes constructed in the City of Erie are subsidized in some way. Though the types of subsidies depend on the type of project, efforts are being made to focus investments in a manner designed to yield the greatest return. However, similar to many municipal investment strategies, investments should periodically be reviewed by local leaders to ensure efficiency. Finally, 75 percent of Erie’s homes have values that are lower than their respective replacement costs (this figure includes the City of Erie and the City of Corry). On the surface, some may view this figure as a badge of Erie’s affordability; however, this is concerning to many because of the likelihood of a much higher instance of vacancy and abandonment.

Properties with values lower than their replacement costs are common in many 4th District communities. What are your thoughts on the best way to address this issue? Please feel free to contact me with your ideas. Also, look for my next post on workforce development listening sessions we’re conducting in partnership with the Philadelphia Fed.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.