Nov 11, 2009

A Sacred Cow

If there was ever a town that doesn't need Habitat For Humanity, its got to be Allentown. CAUTION, THOSE WITH INCURABLE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, DO NOT CONTINUE READING. Allentown currently boasts the newest public housing in the nation, plus block after block of sub-prime defaults. Back in the mid 1990's, I opposed one of Habitats first projects in Allentown. They wanted to brick over one of the side windows of a property I managed, using one of their stock row house plans. At that time the Zoning Officer didn't even list that outrage as a needed variance. The Director of the Redevelopment Authority testified in their support. After I prevailed at the hearing, Habitat's Director told me "No one ever opposes us, we're such a sacred cow."

The "Cow" is currently at it again, pushing around the people of the St. Paul's Park Neighborhood Group. Over thirty of them showed up recently at a zoning hearing to protest Habitat's new proposed houses on a Walnut Street parking lot. The Allentown Planning Commission declined to schedule their meeting in the evening, to allow input from the working neighbors. Although the Redevelopment Authority owns houses that have been vacant for over a decade, Habitat is still encouraged to build more houses on needed parking lots. People would rather feel good about themselves, than do what's best for the city.


LVCI said...

A Bit OT

Years ago my brother purchased a rental property in the 9TH & Jackson streets area. It turned out to be the property from hell.

First the city sent him a letter a few months after he purchased that property that he failed to correct inspection violations. Yeah OK.. he was never told of them at settlement. Anyways, the unsympathetic inspector agreed to meet him. He was granted no extensions nor understanding. About the dumbest violation was he failed to install a dinning room window in the middle room.. DUH! It's a row home!

He worked his butt off and corrected them all. Paid the fines & re-inspection fees, etc. Then about a year or so later the City Of Allentown issued it's intentions to sell his property at a sheriff's sale for failure to pay his taxes. Turns out his lawyer never sent the money. He made good on that quickly out of his own pocket. Then kissed his lawyer's fat butt before he finally got a check out of his lawyer some 10 months later. Two years passed by that time and the next taxes were due once again.

For two years nearly every Saturday he spent his time, labor and money putting on new siding. Re-carpeting the hallway. Painting. New appliances. Created a parking lot in back after taking out a tree in the backyard by himself (course that required jumping thru the hoops with zoning and inspections). All the neighbors praised what he did with the property. They were grateful. Yeah that's nice but..

One tenant who already occupied the property when he bought it was an out patient from the mental health system. He had a small fire in the kitchen. The 2nd floor tenant's dog pissed up the new hallway carpets and mostly he had to have several visits before rent was paid by them. The entire time he owned the place they always remained 2 months behind. Lawyer actions always resulted in appeals and minimal payments to forestall eviction. All this racked up legal fees for him.

So after 3 years he decided to bag it. He was losing more money then he was making. He paid $48,000. Put another $20,000 in materials + 100's of hours of his own labor. So he put it on the market. He would have been happy to get $68,000 to break even. Long story short after 2 years on the market he was down to $35,000 and no takers. Reluctantly he and his wife decided to auction it off.

The day of the auction his wife was in tears when the price bids went from $35,000 up, up, up and the final bid was $70,000. Need I tell you of his opinion about owning rental property in Allentown?

Another quickie- A guy at work bought one near 13Th & Turner. Unbeknownst to him the 3 elderly tenants told the old owner they were going to the high rise. 2 years later he wound up with HUD tenants (you cannot refuse). One of them left a water hose run for over a month. He never found until he got his water bill! They basically trashed his rental and he lost his ass on his investment.

Needless to say very few "regular" working stiffs are interested in investing in rental property in Allentown, which may explain why so many buy these from Jersey & NY. Rent them. Don't stick a dime in them and let the city buy them 4 or 5 years later or just walk away. Who cares they made their money, right?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's OT, it actually is TIMELY.

- Alfonso Todd

michael molovinsky said...

lvci and alfonso, it would be smarter and easier for me not to write about landlording in allentown; i know it's universally not a popular occupation, especially here in allentown. however, because it's considered our biggest problem, and i have experience, i occasionally am willing to walk on that ice. i will not on this post again go into my thoughts on our approaches, but wouldn't it be nice for allentown if lvci didn't find the city an adversary and kept the building?

although Habitat is well intentioned, and certainly needed currently in new orleans, their mission is not appropriate currently in allentown.

Anonymous said...

Mike, if we do not provide rental units in Allentown, where would all those that want to relocate from N.Y., N.J. and illegal immigrants find housing.

Anonymous said...


Liberals believe their every well intented action is going to result in good. At least they can feel good about it, in the meantime Allentown continues to put more housing in a high crime area.
No one with expertise does this and expects good results.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Parking is impossible along Walnut Street. Sadly, there seems to be an 'attitude" about
Habitat that substantiates that person's claim, they do no wrong. One can visit a row of Habitat townhouses in south Bethlehem to see how at least some properties are being maintained. Garbage pails in disorder, bare grass, depressed exteriors.
Habitat needs to do follow-up on all its Lehigh Valley properties. Maybe a board member will come on here and reply.

Anonymous said...

We were told and maybe someone here will tell us if this is true:
Allentown forbids city workers from initiating any type of housing inspection or repair complaint. All complaints are
resident-initiated. This policy we believe works against productivity. What a waste of time. Who better than an expert who drives around and sees what's up to try and get some action taken. As for the issue of 'bribes" they easily could photograph the evidence.

Anonymous said...

We've heard so many former investors tell us similar stories about rentals in Allentown.

LVCI said...

There you go again Scott "Liberals believe their every well intented action is going to result in good". This is how you piss people off continually insisting every time someone who does something you don't like as being like some new disease FOX news invented called a "Liberal"

I'm not playing this Civil War game of yours (FOX News) between conservatives and what you perceive as some sort of disease. Oh if only all the Muslims and "Liberals. would just.....

There's never one comment you make that isn't accusing against another group of people you blame for everything from Dutch Elm Disease to shooting Lincoln.. THE LIBERAL!

Here's a flash I got one more Liberal you just have to see. He helped create the fall of the housing market. He help put people into houses they couldn't afford. NO it wasn't Dodd or Barny Frank this time it was this guy.


Dem' Damn Liberals, There Everywhere!... eeeewww quick there's one over there hiding under a rock!

My point is people can complain about someone's remarks without someone slapping a label on them. Every time you label another person you distance them and they stop listening and start fighting. It's offensive and time consuming to constantly try and defend yourself after you classified them. More Wars start that way!

Wouldn't it all be soooo simple if either party was pure and had the wisdom. It ain't'a gunna happin'!

See Scott, it's a this point, since you done this so many times that, the minute I see in your post the word "Liberal" I cringe like the mute button was pushed inside my head.

Anonymous said...

This blog's title is excellent.
Habitat has been a sacred cow, similar to the United Way. But things change and initial good deeds sometimes get muddled.

Anonymous said...

I am a bleeding-heart liberal who even turns up my nose at the thought of being a "dem" because that's too conservative for me. I'm also pretty PC. I also find the Habitat for Humanity project ill thought out and unnecessary. I don't see it as a political issue, so much as a community issue.

Anonymous said...

Just one sad example of NY landlord housing is evident in south Allentown. A four-unit property, once kept in immaculate condition with a garden of perennials, was sold about four years ago to a woman from NYC. Since then, garbage is left in black plastic bags; mattresses stand against tree trunks till garbage pick-up day, litter lines the once clean front yard. City staffers have responded over and over to complaints. They have been excellent in their responses, that we know. But what a waste of city employee emergies This building is but one of how many, thousands? How many staffer hours have been exhausted working on this one building when there are so many in need. If city hall could figure out how to correct this single critical issue, we believe rental housing landlord mandates would be more respected.

Anonymous said...

Spend it or lose it. Isn't this nonprofit reality? If Habitat stops building and cannot show productivity, its funding faces
risk. Shouldn't their first motto be "do no harm"?

LVCI said...

Anonymous (11/12/2009 7:38 am said... ... I also find the Habitat for Humanity project ill thought out and unnecessary. I don't see it as a political issue, so much as a community issue.

I don't care which side of the aisle someone is on. This project is just plain wrong for Allentown.

Want to do something for Allentown?

Build a place were people can find a job with your hammers. Then they can afford their own damn house. We need jobs, damnit! We already have plenty of (too many) houses.

monkey momma said...

I agree w/ everyone that cleaning up existing properties takes a huge precedence over building new housing that will promptly be destroyed and abused by folks who didn't make an investment on their own for their own home.

I have absolutely no problem with the IDEALS behind HFH. But, the REALITY is, Allentown is drowning in handouts. This town is known all over the East coast as THE place to be for the average welfare family. MM is absolutely right in stating that we are a welfare magnet. If anything, we need to make it much harder to move into this town than it has been in the last decade.

Well, at least somebody is swinging hammers around here. It'll be a long time before those hammers are used for anything that might generate revenue or profit. Jobs are extinct here, and I fear all our town has left is handouts.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with LVCI on many fronts. there are so many INSTITUTIONAL challenges that are preventing good investors from gaining rewards for their work (the rogue beaurocrat being one of them). I also agree with the comments directed at Scott Armstrong. This has nothing to do with ideology. i know lots of conservatives who put their faith into action building homes with habitat. All that said, I've worked with habitat in other communities where they structure their work and plans around community plans. If the community isn't on board, then habitat stops. What a concept.

Finally, the constant political trashing has to stop. It is poisonous and is why, quite frankly, respectable ideas from R's in allentown don't gain traction: it automatically becomes and us vs them argument and when there is a dominant majority party, they will always win.


Anonymous said...

Geoff, well said and I agree.

The Banker

Anonymous said...


Apparently I have offended your moderate sensibilities by writing the truth that Liberal motivations are behind the push to put more housing in Allentown’s high crime area.

Too bad. The truth is the truth, reality is what it is. It is best to face it directly rather than rail at the messenger who delivers words we’d rather not read.

Scott Armstrong

LVCI said...

Scott Armstrong (Nov 13, 2009 6:17 PM) said.. "Apparently I have offended your moderate sensibilities"

No. Actually you are the one who appears "offended" because I figured you out. Your reaffirming exactly what I said in my previous post (Nov 12,2009 7:31am). You couldn't make it past the 1st sentence w/o the word "Liberal".

How do you know this is a "Liberal" motivation? That's not how I see it. I looked up the staff. I see they get PAID. No projects, no funding. Most of these feel good projects in Allentown are build around obtaining available funding and maintaining income for their organizational leaders. When it comes to money.. money doesn't come in red or blue.. only green.

Money and those who pursue, it do so under all sorts of facades. But you go ahead and continue to believe these people are doing all this solely in the spirit of "liberalism" and out of the goodness of their heart. FOLLOW THE MONEY TRAIL!

If I should make only one remark that doesn't pass your "Liberal" sniff test, you take a poke at me. Your unkind words towards me at this point is like trying to sell baloney to a vegan. I have no taste for it.

One more character observation.. You always like the last comment. So have a go at it.

Anonymous said...


I actually live in the city and am somewhat familiar with the church that is spearheading this project so perhaps I actually know a thing or two about what I am writing about. Clearly my perspective has upset you and caused you to lash out. So be it. No matter how much we may fulminate, your words and mine will change nothing in the city. It is just commentary that we are engaged in.

Scott Armstrong