May 20, 2012

The Bricks of Allentown

When Mildred Gehman* portrayed the house on the southeast corner of 12th and Walnut Streets in 1950, it was already about 60 years old. Another 60 years have passed, and the house still looks the same today. The bricks of Allentown hold up well. Yesterday, as I passed the corner of Madison and Chew Streets, I noticed three buildings in a row wearing a new orange tag, Unfit for Human Habitation. I have seen many clusters of these orange tags. They are generally handed out to one unfortunate owner or another, by one inspector. Recently, I received a phone call from such a hapless owner. His two buildings were tagged for some superficial reason, such as peeling paint. Everybody knows who has painted, or paid to have his house painted, that the stuff starts peeling off in short order, since the lead and other emulsions have been removed. Back to hapless owner. Because his buildings were tagged, the tenants were forced to move. In addition to the disruption in the tenants lives, the owner was denied the income stream to meet his debt service. Upon completion of the work on the list, the inspector then created a new list upon re-inspection. The re-inspections required scheduling specific inspectors, such as plumbing and electric, and dragged out the time frame. The primary inspector then inflicted a third list on the owner. Over a year has passed, his two buildings remain vacant, and the owner is out over $Thirty thousand dollars. Buildings on 12th Street, just north of Chew, have been tagged so long that the orange is fading on the notices. The city can mistreat rental operators because the public has little to no sympathy for that class of ownership. Several years ago, Allentown passed a Point Of Sale inspection law, which requires inspections of all private houses for sale. Welcome to the bureaucracy. To post a comment pertaining to a specific property, owner or inspector, you must must use your name.

 *Mildred Gehman,1908-2006, starting teaching at the Baum Art School in 1946. At that time, Baum was on the southwest corner of 12th and Walnut Streets, across the street from the house shown above.

37 comments:

Untouched Takeaway said...

Hi, Mike:

I read your blog frequently, but this is my first time commenting.

While I believe obvious structural and severe quality of life issues (huge amounts of garbage/unmowed lawns and the vermin they create, etc) need to be addressed in regards to *all* housing - rental or owner-occupied, I think cities would do better to be more concerned about who is living *in* the rental units than whether or not an outside paint job is overdue.

I've asked this question (rhetorically to myself and in print on the Express Times comments section) whether or not police maintain some sort of sortable data base than can indicate the number of times and for what issues they were either called to a home or arrested someone at a home. I believe Easton at least has rules regarding fines and in extreme cases property seizures when repeated offenses occur at rental properties, but unless the information is made available, it would be difficult for citizens to demand action.

A case in point - the Easton incident about 10 days ago where a dog was shot in the course of a raid on a home. The public records for the property clearly indicate it is a single-family, non-owner occupied property, yet the official police quotes from the Express Times story mention a "2nd floor apartment". It would seem that - even discounting the apparent criminal activity - would warrant some sort of levy from the zoning or code department.

Thanks for the informative blog...I enjoy it very much.

UT

Anonymous said...

I can see issuing fines for peeling paint, but not labeling it "unfit for habitation." How can this law be changed? The city wields far too much power right now. I'm all about getting properties to look maintained, but what you've described seems vindictive.

Bill said...

I just watched the point of sale process with the sale of my neighbors house. He had to fix multiple and very minor issues and sold the home for $44,000 less than the county appraisal after making about $10,000 worth of painting and re-pointing repairs. I attended your event on this issue about 7 or 8 years ago. This seems the true meaning of city without limits. The process seems quite arbitrary with no manner of appeal or greivence. Scary.

Anonymous said...

i think its wonderful that the city of allentown has ordinances in place to protect renters from neglectful slumlords. if the rental in this article racked up $30,000 in repairs and still couldn't pass code, it must have been a real shithole for those living there and they probably moved with enthusiasm and optimism. mayor pawlowski's slumlord hall of shame is a great idea.

michael molovinsky said...

@9:12, the figure relates to what the landlord lost in rent on two buildings, for two years. the inspections are often arbitrary, and the hall of shame outright discriminatory. such programs require a high level of fairness in their implementation, a trait sorely missing in allentown.

Anonymous said...

Yawn.

The only bricks that matter in The City With No Limit are the ones that build Chairman Pawlowski's magnificent $ 220.0 million dollar Palace of Sport.

Why must you be such an unwavering Obstructionist whose solitary mission in life appears to be nothing more than standing in the way of Development and Progress, Comrade Molovinsky?

:)

VIKTOR TIKHONOV

Anonymous said...

your murky article wasn't clear about the $30 grand. and i disagree with you about the slumlord hall of shame. and the inspections. the codes and code violations thereof aren't "arbitrary." your on the wrong side of this. you should be advocating for low income renters, like you did with the downtown merchants. flip flop?

Anonymous said...

also, i'm not a 'hate blogger' or 'cyber stalker'...just somebody disagreeing w/ you. Verboten here usually.

michael molovinsky said...

@9:36, you wrote those living there and they probably moved with enthusiasm and optimism. not at all, quite the contrary. at that price point in center city, it's a renter's market. if they had been ill served, they would have quickly moved on their own. understand that as a landlord for 35 years, i know the subject well, and potentially expose myself to the bureaucracy's vindictiveness. while you on the other hand, dispute me anonymously

Anonymous said...

Who cares about low income renters?

Everyone knows that they can't afford season tickets to watch Pawlowski's Pucksters throw haymakers on Hamilton Street at the magnificent $ 220.0 million dollar Palace of Sport.

Hey, SOMEBODY has to support (read, pay for) for the Chairman's Monument (to his and the compliant, all-Democrat Rubber Stamp Council of Apparatchik's greatness), you must understand.

Unfortunately, Comrade Molovinsky is NOT a Democrat and, therefore, unable to stay focused on the all-important Tranformation in the City With No Spending Limits.

I offer sincere apologies.

Shaibu!

VIKTOR TIKHONOV

Anonymous said...

Over the past few years the Allentown code office has grown by leaps and bounds.
this office is populated by arrogant bullies.
The enforcement is arbitrary - some get a free pass while others get dragged across the hot coals.
Preemptive property police for pay do not make Allentown a better place to live.
Add to this a plethora of city "authorities" and we have an enviornment designed to harrass and suck money out of all its citizens.
"the city of limits" gets more uninhabitable by the day.

Anonymous said...

don't give me that 'anonymous coward' b.s. defense, micheal. 99% of the commenters on local blogs are anonymous, and blog authors including yourself routinely defend peoples reasons (and right) to remain anonymous. I'll take that position of yours as a forfeit.

michael molovinsky said...

@10:20, forfeit of what? i know the specifics of this case and the generalities of the rental market in allentown. you on the other hand, made an unfounded, bash the landlord type of statement. these policies have been in place now since 1998. if you're happy with center city results, don't read my blog. If you're not happy, take advantage of my experience, and try to learn something.

Bill said...

Mike's point is resonating with me. I have no love for Allentown landlords, there are good ones, there are not so good ones. His point is about the arbitrary nature of our code enforcement. Having observed what was done to my neighbor all homeowners have something to fear from our city without limits code enforcers.

Anonymous said...

You and I have serious fundamental differences of policy opinion, Comrade Molovinsky ...

... but I sincerely do not think you should just let that ridiculous Racism accusation slide, Comrade Molovinsky.

Goon hockey was always for the North Americans, but we Soviets came to have our own ways of dealing with cheap shot artists effectively.

Because we found that ignoring the goons and skating away only stiffened their resolve, encouraged them and actually invited the blasted thugs to return even more often with their elbows and sticks up even higher ...

Shaibu!

VIKTOR TIKHONOV

Anonymous said...

arbitrary, schmarbitrary. where's your proof? otherwise its just same old same old "Molovinsky on Allentown" kvetching by old white guys and the occasional diversity sycophant naysayer like alfonso todd.

Anonymous said...

shaibu.

michael molovinsky said...

@12:11, your comments and targets are very similar to those found on the bill and angie villa blog. you overrate proof, people recognize vileness and distortion when they read it. please place your thoughts there.

Anonymous said...

The office of code enforcement is in disarray. It lacks leadership. It is at times sloppy and other times punitive.

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

@ 11:52, your points are well taken, but they can only be taken so many times, before the repetitiveness becomes a distraction to the post, and body of comments.

Anonymous said...

This owner should come to a city council meeting and speak to Mrs. Eichenwald. She really seems to care about the city's residents. Is it true there are now more than 600
buildings deemed unfit?

Anonymous said...

Molovinski is like "Chicken Little," always braying, "The end is near!" Like that kids playground at Cedar Beach. Remember the mayhem Mike predicted there? Outsiders! Loitering! Vandals! Graphitti! Gangs! Muggings! Never happened. That playground is a huge success. Some people just can't adjust to CHANGE, especially change for the better. Molovinski is one of those.

michael molovinsky said...

comment 5:10 is from the hate blogger and cyberstalker. if i delete the comment, it will only be reposted, over and over again. such cyberstalking has resulted in many blogs being forced into comment moderation, and several bloggers to stop posting completely. please ignore such comments, and please do not respond to them. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Shaibu!

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Those who "bray" do so anonymously, such the cowards they be.



You have the guts they lack and they hate you for it.They are the sniveling wimps.

Scott Armstrong

John said...

My home was victim to one of the city inspectors. This is a privately owned home of my mother in law that we live in. She lives around the corner in her own home. The inspector told us that because she does not live in the home, that it is a rental and is subject to an inspection. After telling the inspector that this is not a rental, it is a private home (we do not pay rent or have a rental agreement), he still insisted that because she does not reside in the house, Allentown considers that a rental and she now must pay rental fee's every year and the house is subject to an inspection.

Well, after a few bouts back n forth between the inspector and a lawyer, we have not heard from mr. inspector in almost a year. Seems a little pushing from a lawyer got them to stop bullying innocent people who live in private owned houses.

Now, my neighbors were not so lucky. Mr. inspector went in their homes and ransacked them, finding a laundry list of infractions. Most of which, are code violations on houses that are 100+ years old. A lot of the homes in my area have internal wiring from the 1930s, outlets from the 70s in places that you dont use outlets, plumbing from the 40s in some spots....things that just dont get updated. Well, the city wanted them to overhaul every little detail inside those homes to the point of one home owner packing his things and leaving the country (seriously).

Remember the mother in law in the beginning of this story? Mr. Inspector duped her daughter into letting him in to the home by telling her he just wanted to look around and make sure it wasnt a rental (lol). What she didn't know is once they are in your home, you are pretty much screwed. Mr. inspector ended up giving this woman 3 pages of repairs, most of which were cosmetic like painting (they wanted rooms repainted because they did not approve of the seafoam color ... im not kidding). They wanted rugs put in where there were wooden floors because the floors werent perfectly even (old houses 100 year old wood, do the math). They wanted rugs pulled because they didn't match in one hallway (2 pieces were used to make up a short distance). Some of the 'violations' were absolutely laughable and were accompanied by a handful of 'real' violations. This mainly was to let them get inside your home, force you to fix it up to their liking and give you only 90 days to come up with not only the money to make all the repairs, but also find someone to make the repairs or changes, have it done in an insanely short period of time or face losing your home to an auction.

Yes, if you did not complete their laundry list of "violations", they threaten you with losing your home after 90 days. After which the city takes your home by force, throws you out on to the street and auctions your house.

For the 90 days we spent busting our asses fixing up this home to Allentown's interior decorating standards, we were constantly noticing people coming near the home taking pictures (huh?) ... We had caught two persons one afternoon near the home taking snap shots and grilled them as to why they were lurking around the home..turns out, the city, after stickering a home, notifies rehab groups who buy homes on the cheap to house recovering addicts!!!!!

Lovely.

Allentown, you suck.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
Could you possibly find out if any work has begun on the stone wall in Lehigh Parkway? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

scott armstrong: 5'1"

michael molovinsky said...

@7:46, please place your cyberstalking at the bill and angie villa blog, where i and other members of the community, including scott, are attacked. considering that scott is a school board member, you might also choose angie villa's blog on childhood education

Anonymous said...

To all those complaining about sales inspections on your own homes, just imagine the ridiculous violations that inspectors come up with in $500/month apartments in which the tenants could care less about the building conditions. It's a strange phenomenon in center city that tenants can't stop using the railings in the hallways as an ashtray. . . and its even harded to evict them as a result of it!!

Anonymous said...

scott armstrong, thick as a (allentown) brick.

Anonymous said...

Molovinskli's another "Allentown brick." THICK.

michael molovinsky said...

@5:08&7:03, hard to understand an educator being part of active cyberbullying. you two have forced many bloggers into comment moderation, and others to cease writing completely.

Anonymous said...

In their words they reveal their true nature. let all the readers see for themselves.

Scott Armstrong

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Bill said...

Mike I appreciate this thread and the ones you are writing about the deterioration of our parks and infrastructure. It must be difficult to deal with all the spam, but know that many people value your work in these areas.