“The continued influx of workers from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas places increased demand on the already limited availability of local housing,” he told the PA Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee last September. Middle class and lower income families, McRath says, are being squeezed out of the market as rents have tripled – sometimes quadrupled – what they were before the gas rush.
Two bedroom apartments that rented for $400/month just a few months ago now cost $1200/month. A quick check of classified ads in Towanda area newspapers show one bedroom apartments going for $800/month, a one-and-a-half bedroom for $1250 and a 3-bedroom apartment for $2250. The later includes utilities and internet.
The problem: working class families can’t compete with the money out-of-state gas workers bring to the housing market. Landlords are eager to cash in on the boom, raising rents and even evicting long-time tenants. And that’s leaving some folks out on the streets.
The regional homeless rate has increased 20 percent over the last year, said James Meehan. He’s the Regional Housing Coordinator for Futures Community Support Services serving Bradford, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Sullivan, Tioga and Wyoming counties.
Instead of heading home after work, many people are bunking with relatives, renting substandard housing, getting a second job to pay rent, or crowding four people into one bedroom apartments. Some are living in campers or sleeping in cars.
The lack of housing is especially tough on children, and Bradford County Child Services reported a ten percent increase in placement of children in foster homes from November 2009 to September 2010.
This isn’t because the families are abusive or neglectful, Meehan says. “They’re victims of the housing market.”
One solution is to build more housing for gas field workers – and Chesapeake has done that. They recently completed worker dormitories, their “man-camp” near Athens, PA.
But it’s not just gas field workers who compete for local rentals – once business owners see an increase in demand for their goods or services, they try to relocate in Marcellus areas, too.