The problem of housing shortages, hiked rents and homelessness as a result of activities by the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry didn't happen overnight, and it won't be solved in short order.
Complicated elements that paint a gloomy picture - unaffordable, skyrocketing rents, lack of affordable housing, devastation caused by the flood in September - were put under the microscope during a day-long housing summit Tuesday at Lycoming College.
"If you're not being hit now, you may be," said Dr. Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the department of political science at Lycoming College and director of the college's Center for the Study of Community and the Economy. The center sponsored the summit along with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
"Everyone needs a house, it's not an option," said Bonita Kolb, associate professor of business at Lycoming College and co-director of the center.
By far, the heavy impacts have been felt most by those with the lowest incomes, according to findings in a study referenced by Kolb and Williamson.
Williamson said he hoped the summit would provide resources and link stakeholders to work toward possible solutions to the growing crisis.
With four sessions and topics planned, the summit began with an update of a 2011 study titled Marcellus Natural Gas Development's Effect on Housing in Pennsylvania, which was released late last year.
In the study, results of interviews with 70 individuals in six counties, including Lycoming, Bradford and Sullivan, were presented.
The study showed how rents and home prices have increased at nearly all price points.
Since it was released, those conducting the study found the impact of the housing shortage is heaviest on thosewhose housing situation was most at risk prior to the gas industry growth.
The non-working poor, seniors and disabled are getting hit the hardest, according to the study.
The September flood only made the housing shortage worse, according to the professors.
Displaced families with few housing options found emergency shelters, but those places provided short-term relief and supplies, they said. Many families were either forced to move in with relatives or to camp outside their damaged homes. Some remain in that situation looking for permanent living arrangements, according to the study.
The flood also took many rental properties off the market, at least temporarily.
"Non-traditional forms of homelessness have increased," Kolb said. Not all flood-damaged houses were salvageable. Not all individuals wanted to relocate because they have jobs or family here.
Communities experiencing the most difficult housing problems, such as higher rents and a shortage of available housing stock, have been those where gas drilling activities are heaviest.
Additionally, counties where gas producers and service companies established regional headquarters have seen more long-term housing impacts than communities where activities are limited to drilling and pipeline work, the study found.
And it's not just local people who have had to struggle with the high cost of housing.
Newcomers moving here to work in the gas industry also face higher housing costs and a shortage of available housing. Those seeking housing in the rental market are the most directly affected.
The professors also shared barriers to housing development in the Marcellus region. Such impediments include restrictions by a tight financing market, inadequate utilities, sewer and water infrastructure in some areas, regulatory hurdles and doubts about the longevity of the shale gas industry.
"The most surprising issue," Kolb said, "we're hearing housing needs at all income levels. We are hearing we need starter homes and we need professional homes.
A shortage in one area affects other areas, including social service agencies."