Thank You

Thank you to the following organizations for their continued support of our research and this Data Dashboard, which is part of Project STIR (Sparking Transformation using Information & Research).

Moses Taylor Foundation
The Robert H. Spitz Foundation
Willary Foundation
Scranton Area Community Foundation
William G. McGowan Charitable Fund
J

Return to Indicators dashboard main page

Housing

The Housing section of this report covers indicators that measure Northeastern Pennsylvania’s housing market, including demand, building permits, occupancy, housing affordability, rental affordability, housing density, market conditions, and homelessness.

In 2018, there were over 251,000 housing units in the two counties. The region’s housing stock is predominantly older, and about two-thirds of housing units are owner-occupied.

Homes by year built

As of 2019, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties were somewhat behind the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in terms of recent building. Statewide, 2.5 percent of homes were built in 2014 or later, compared to 1.5 percent in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. Both counties also have smaller percentages of housing stock built between 2000 and 2013 than Pennsylvania’s 9.4 percent; Lackawanna County sits at 6.4 percent and Luzerne County is at 6.0 percent. This indicates that the nationwide housing construction boom of the early 2000s was less apparent in this region. Furthermore, compared to Pennsylvania, a much higher percentage of the region’s housing stock was built prior to 1940.

Homes by Year Built

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 American Community Survey

Permits and Construction Costs

The number of building permits issued in Luzerne County has largely matched or exceeded levels seen before the last recession. In Luzerne County, 331 building permits covering 357 housing units were issued in 2008; 552 permits for 624 units were reported in 2018 – the highest totals of all years analyzed. In 2019, the total number of buildings and units fell, but remained higher than activity seen in the post-recession years of 2011 to 2016.

In Lackawanna County, similar low levels of permitting activity were seen from 2011 through 2013. An anomalous spike in 2014 was followed by several years of more active permitting, before dropping off in 2019.

Construction costs have generally correlated with permitting activity in both counties.

Units Permitted

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Building Permits Survey

Occupancy/Vacancy

In 2019, 87.4 percent of all housing units in Lackawanna County were occupied – in line with rates seen in prior years. The percentage in Luzerne County increased for the third year in a row, from 83.9 percent in 2016 to 87 percent in 2019. The Commonwealth’s occupancy rate increased slightly in 2019, and remains higher than either county rate.

Occupancy/Vacancy

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing Tenure

Housing tenure refers to the breakdown of those who own their homes versus those who rent. From 2015 to 2019, there was some fluctuation in the ratios of those who own to those who rent in Lackawanna County, Luzerne County, and Pennsylvania. The ratio of owners to renters has been approximately 2:1 in both counties. There have been year-to-year changes in both counties, with the percentages of renters ranging from about 31 percent to around 37 percent most years. As of 2019, Lackawanna County had the largest share of renters, at 36.6 percent of the county’s households.

Lackawanna: 2019 Owner to Renter Comparison

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Luzerne: 2019 Owner to Renter Comparison

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Pennsylvania: 2019 Owner to Renter Comparison

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing / Rental Affordability

For owner-occupied housing, affordability is measured by monthly cost of ownership. Selected Monthly Owner Costs (SMOC), as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, include mortgage payment, real estate taxes, various insurances, utilities, fuels, mobile home costs, and condominium fees. Only owner-occupied units with mortgages are included in this dataset.

From 2015 to 2019, Lackawanna County’s median SMOC was mostly between 22.9 and 25 percent of the median household income for homeowners. Ratios in Lackawanna County have been lower over the last several years than the comparison year of 2010, indicating that on average, homeowners have become somewhat less burdened by housing costs over time. Because this statistic is a ratio of homeownership costs to median income, there is no need to adjust for inflation.

Luzerne County’s SMOC as a percentage of homeowner median income was 21 percent in 2019. This percentage represents a small decrease from the prior year, and the lowest of the past five years. Pennsylvania’s ratio decreased to 22.5 percent, continuing a downward trend.

A similar calculation was used for rental housing. The median rent as a percentage of median renter household income for all three geographic areas has fluctuated for the past several years, usually staying close to or under 30 percent. The ratio of median rent to median income increased marginally to 28.5 percent in Lackawanna County and decreased to 29.1 percent in Luzerne County. The statewide ratio fell to 30.2 percent. A household is considered cost-burdened when housing-related spending exceeds 30 percent of its income, meaning that it may struggle to afford other necessities.

The two counties have generally had median rents and rent-to-income ratios that were comparable to or slightly lower than Pennsylvania’s overall.

% of Income for Owner Costs

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

% of Income for Rent

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing Value Comparison

Lackawanna County’s 2019 median housing value increased from the prior year, which at $158,000 is the highest of all years studied. Luzerne County had experienced a substantial jump of about $8,000 in 2018, and an equivalent drop between 2018 and 2019.

Prior to the significant increase in 2019, median home values in Lackawanna County had not shown a clear trend; there had been small increases and decreases annually. Luzerne County had shown an upward trajectory from 2015 to 2018. The median value of Lackawanna County homes has been an average of about 20 percent lower than the statewide median over the last five years; in Luzerne County, the median value has been about 43 percent lower than the statewide median on average.

In 2019, 36.7 percent of homes in Luzerne County were valued at less than $100,000, and another 39.4 percent were valued between $100,000 and $200,000. Similarly, in Lackawanna County, the largest share of homes (39.8 percent) was valued between $100,000 and $200,000, and another 26 percent were valued at less than $100,000. In both counties, the percentages of homes valued above $200,000 and the percentages of homes valued above $300,000 were much lower than those percentages in Pennsylvania overall.

Housing Value Comparison: Lackawanna

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing Value Comparison: Luzerne

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing Value Comparison: Pennsylvania

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Housing Density Comparison

Housing density data for both counties and Pennsylvania showed small increases in homes per square mile between 2018 and 2019, in accordance with small increases in the estimated number of housing units in both counties. In Lackawanna County, Luzerne County, and Pennsylvania, the number of homes per square mile in 2019 were 216.9, 166.1, and 124.5 respectively, indicating that the two counties have higher housing densities than the Commonwealth as a whole.

Homes per square mile

Source U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Mortgage Activity Comparison

Generally, between 53 percent and 56 percent of owner-occupied homes in Lackawanna County have mortgages from 2015 – 2018. Luzerne County experiences more fluctuation; the share of homes with mortgages ranges from about 52 percent to 58 percent. In 2019, this share rose slightly in both Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties compared with the year before, while the statewide percentage saw a small decline.

Median monthly owner costs, which include mortgage payments as well as real estate taxes, various insurances, utilities, fuels, mobile home costs, and condominium fees, decreased in Luzerne County but increased in Lackawanna County and statewide. The median monthly owner costs in both counties have remained substantially lower than those at the state level.

% with Mortgage

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Foreclosures

The number of foreclosures in the two counties and statewide was highest in 2012 and 2013, representing a peak in foreclosures associated with the last recession. In Lackawanna County, foreclosures have continued to trend down, reaching the lowest year of those analyzed in 2019, while Luzerne County’s foreclosure total has begun to trend upward since 2016. The 636 foreclosures in Luzerne County in 2019 is the highest number since 2014. Statewide, the 20,143 foreclosures in 2019 was the lowest number of all years analyzed.

Foreclosures

Source: The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania

Homelessness

Homelessness data is tracked annually via point-in-time counts reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2016, 411 homeless individuals were counted in the two counties. This trended downward to 324 in 2018, and then gradually increased to 358 in the most recent count, conducted before the pandemic in 2020. The statewide homeless population grew slightly in 2020.

As of 2020, the percent of households in the two counties that were unsheltered increased, particularly in Lackawanna County. In the combined region, 9.5 percent of homeless households were unsheltered, nearly twice the share of the last two years and the highest share of all years analyzed. Nonetheless, this is a smaller share of unsheltered households compared with Pennsylvania as a whole.

The share of the region’s unhoused population consisting of children declined from 32 percent in 2017 to 19 percent in 2019, then rose to nearly 28 percent in 2020.

Homelessness

Source: US Department of Housing & Urban Development

Pennsylvania Homelessness

Source: US Department of Housing & Urban Development