In these before and after photos, 428 and 430 Hayes Street went through exterior renovations done by the Façade Program of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem. The program helps many South Side residents in funding these renovation projects. (Courtesy of Anna Smith)
Furniture was piled high in the old, spacious living room that was filled with clutter and miscellaneous items. Big patterned drapes encroached on the double window that added minimal light to the room. A Christmas-themed tablecloth covered a large wooden table that stood on the carpet at the room’s center.
Reggie and Lenore Hughes’ home at 721 E. Fourth St. has been in the rehabilitation process for months through the Façade Program of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem. Contractors started re-siding the house to improve its appearance and, in the process, they found the house had no insulation and multiple structural issues.
The Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and the city of Bethlehem have done 18 home improvements since 2015. The Hughes’ home is under construction and will mark the program’s 19th home.
Anna Smith, director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, said the Façade Program is designed to fix the exterior of homes with two main goals. The first is assisting low-income homeowners and renters with improving the quality of their homes. The second is the “spillover effect” of what happens when you fix up a whole block of homes — people tend to start picking trash up off the streets, taking better care of their homes and getting to know their neighbors.
Many South Side residents face instability when it comes to housing. Fortunately, the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem has been able to garner support and funding to create the program, which has directly affected many homeowners and renters on the South Side, has had an impact on the Bethlehem community.
“Affordable, quality housing has become one of the biggest challenges the South Bethlehem community faces today,” Smith said.
She said any social service provider in the Lehigh Valley would say it’s the area’s main issue and is especially acute in the South Side, because it’s a small city and most of the houses are old.
Smith said 67 percent of the people who live on the South Side are renters, so there’s a lot less control over the quality of the housing, rehabilitation and upkeep.
Families also face a lot of economic challenges, creating cycles of instability and making it hard to build a sense of community.
“There’s no way that most people have the disposable income to fix up the outside of their houses,” said Allyson Lehr, a member of the housing committee of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and Southside Vision.
Southside Vision is a neighborhood partnership program that helps fund the façade program by providing the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem with $200,000 per year, some of which is allocated to housing and façade improvements.
The other half of the program’s money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through a grant from the city.
“Housing rehab and advocacy has become such a big focus of ours as an organization,” Smith said.
Last year, the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem did a façade at 324 Fillmore St., the home of Richard and Diana Butler. They’ve lived there for 35 years.
Richard said the organization put a new roof on the house, re-did all of the brick around the porch and added a screen door and a front window.
“It’s a big change,” Richard said. “It looks now like it used to look.”
He said he was happy that they did the façade.
“It really works,” said Anne Evans, member of Southside Vision. “It makes a huge difference and really helps people get some needed work done on their house.”
Evans also serves on the housing and community image committees at the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, where she works on the façade program and on improving people’s perception of the South Side.
Evans said the organization tries to be strategic about the houses and blocks it selects. The group discusses areas where they could make the largest impact.
Smith said Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem want to choose places where the spillover effect will be significant.
Since investing in Hayes Street, they’ve seen four voluntary façade improvements where people have chosen to fix up their houses on their own because of the work going on around them.
There was also a 9.1 percent increase in homeownership in the neighborhood surrounding Hayes Street over the five-year period before the façade improvements and the five-year period during their work, according to the American community service data, an ongoing survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The city as a whole decreased 5.2 percent during that same time frame.
“We can’t claim credit necessarily for it, but I think it’s a pretty good indicator of how the image of that neighborhood has changed,” Smith said. “I’d like to think we had a piece in doing that.”
Smith said contradicting the trend in such a positive way gives people hope that they’re making strides.
“Maybe, in the long run, we can have a greater impact with a program like this than another type of program,” she said.