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United Way of Lancaster County


United Way’s Kate Zimmerman talks housing on Water Street Mission podcast (video)

Water Street Mission President Jack Crowley, left, hosts United Way of Lancaster County President Kate Zimmerman on an episode of “Restorers,” Water Street Mission’s podcast series. (Source: Water Street Mission)

When families struggle to afford housing, they’re likely struggling in other ways, too, Kate Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman has a twofold perspective on the housing crisis in Lancaster County: She is president and CEO of United Way of Lancaster County; and co-chair of the Coalition for Sustainable Housing along with Tenfold CEO Shelby Nauman.

Zimmerman is the latest guest on “Restorers,” a podcast produced by Water Street Mission that focuses on “Deeper Insights into Homelessness.” Zimmerman joined Water Street President Jack Crowley for Episode 9 of Season 2 to discuss the consequences of the area’s housing shortage and options for expanding supply.

United Way of Lancaster County operates a regional call center for 211, a free 24/7 hotline that directs people to resources like housing assistance, food banks and so on — “like a 911 for health and human services,” as Zimmerman put it. These days, more than half the calls are housing related, she said.

Statistics indicate that for every 100 households earning $27,000 or less, Lancaster County has only 23 housing units they can afford. The cost burden endured by the rest spills over into other areas of their lives: They may be foregoing medications, resorting to food banks, cutting back on heat in the winter.

More affordable housing is needed, Zimmerman said, and done right, it can be built without imposing externalities on neighbors and without unduly encroaching on Lancaster County’s treasured farmland and open space. The Coalition for Sustainable Housing endorses Places2040, the Lancaster County comprehensive plan, which calls for channeling development into “urban growth areas” and aiming for an overall density of 7.5 housing units per acre. (Actual development has fallen far short of that goal: In the period 2015-19, it averaged 4.6 units per acre.)

Lancaster County has a proud tradition of collaboration, and Zimmerman said that gives her cause for hope. Additionally, there’s more attention being devoted to the housing crisis as more people are affected.

“We’ve reached such a crisis point that we have to solve the problem,” she said.

Listeners can access Water Street Mission’s Restorers series on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Podcasts.