Where will a new work force live?


2021-03-12 11:47:00

Mar. 12—The housing market in Hazleton is booming, Mayor Jeff Cusat said.

Demand is unlikely to ease in the coming years, especially if developers follow through with their plans, he said.

“Inventory is non-existent,” Cusat said. “If all of these projects do come to fruition, I’m expecting people hopefully to invest in more residential units.”

Eight of the larger industrial projects that are proposed for Greater Hazleton could create nearly 6,200 jobs over the next several years, according to estimates provided by local officials and developers.

With some of the projects years away from completion, it’s unclear how many of those jobs will be filled by local residents or commuters. But those who do move to the city for work will need somewhere to live, Cusat said.

“If the jobs do come, I see people living in the city, closer to the (businesses), which is going to drive the interest in development,” he said. “If it all comes together, I’d like to see a self-dependent, thriving community.”

Inventory down, prices up

Demand is partly the result of a housing inventory that became depleted during the nine weeks when real estate agencies were ordered closed in 2020 because of the pandemic, said Ken Temborski, owner/broker of Aggressive Realty and Rentals, Conyngham.

A year ago in February, there were 1,800 homes available in a market that stretches from Shavertown to the Hazleton Area.

As of mid-February, inventory fell to around 380 homes, Temborski said.

“When we were closed for nine weeks, that emptied the cupboard,” Temborski said.

Restrictions eased since the restrictions were implemented last March, but homeowners were initially hesitant to open their homes for showings because of the pandemic, he said.

More recently sales have skyrocketed, with a low inventory and interest rates driving up prices and making for quick turnover, he said.

“In general, the housing market is so hot in Hazleton,” Temborski said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s nothing to see three to four agents waiting with people, going back to back to back (for a showing).”

Demand has driven up sales prices significantly, with double homes that once sold for $30,000 to $40,000 for each side going for between $60,000 to $70,000 per side, he said.

The rental market is following suit, with rent for a half of a double home with two to three bedrooms ranging from $560 to $1,000 per month in Hazleton and northern Schuylkill County, Temborski said.

Although prices increased locally, Temborski said they remain attractive to people who are moving to the area from larger metropolitan areas in New York and New Jersey.

“People come from the city, they sell a tiny place in New Jersey … a small house and they get $450,000 and they’re buying the queen’s castle in the valley for $250,000,” he said. “That’s the big difference with the numbers coming out of the city vs. our numbers. They want space, open air and less congestion.”

In Temborski’s experience, buildings with more than five units are in top demand, followed by half-double and double homes, and single units.

A double home or apartment building can sell under contract in seven to 15 days, he said.

Buyers are shying away from counter offers and are instead opting for “escalating clauses” that allow them to make larger offers without the back-and-forth of negotiating, he said.

A buyer, for example, might make an initial offer of $300,000 but would be willing to pay up to $350,000.

Temborski said he’s also aware of a scenario where a buyer purchased a home for $10,000 over the asking price without seeing it in person.

In other cases, people who have a showing lined up at 3 p.m. on a Sunday might only have two hours to make a formal offer, he said.

A new purpose

Housing projects that are currently underway in Hazleton could provide the blueprint for accommodating a growing community, Cusat said.

In downtown Hazleton, the Post Road Construction firm is building 68 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments at the Altamont Building. When completed, the former hotel will have commercial space with offices and shops on the first floor, a banquet hall and catering on floors two and three, and apartments on the remaining upper floors.

A few blocks east of the Altamont, local resident Juan Santos has been working to convert the former Poplar Street School into a 18-unit apartment building.

“I think projects like that are going to be key,” Cusat said. “We do have a lot of old schools in the city that can be converted. A vacant building that is sitting there is really worth nothing. When you have people who start putting millions of dollars into these vacant properties, they will bring up the property values.”

The Locust Street and former Holy Trinity schools have also been mentioned as possibilities for residential housing while the former St. Joseph’s Hospital could be used for a similar purpose, he said.

“That could be hundreds of units,” Cusat said of the hospital.

Prospective developers could also look to convert former factory buildings into residential units, he said.

If the jobs materialize, Cusat said officials could consider creating more high-rise housing.

New development?

The city is also looking at possibilities for creating housing on larger undeveloped tracts, Cusat said.

In November, Cusat suggested using part of a $1.9 million state loan to pave a dirt road that extends from Terrace Boulevard to Route 93. The project would make up to 80 privately owned plots in the Terrace neighborhood accessible for residential development, he said.

“We’re just trying to entice people to build,” he said at the time. “We’re trying to see what the return on the investment would be.”

Costs of building that road would dictate whether that project is lumped into a large-scale paving program the city wants to complete with the state loan, he said.

“We’d have to see what the costs would be an if it’s even feasible,” Cusat said recently. “There’s only so many things we can do to expand the tax base.”

For all of the industrial development in neighboring Hazle Twp., supervisors’ Chairman Jim Montone said that township officials haven’t been approached by any companies that are interested in residential development.

Many workers may opt to commute, he said.

“As far as housing, I don’t know what to tell you,” Montone said. “In Humboldt, we have people working who travel from New York, New Jersey, Scranton … a lot of people traveling in to work those jobs. There are no housing (projects) yet.”

Contact the writer: sgalski@standardspeaker.com; 570-501-3586

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Source by [tellusdaily.com]