Jun 18, 2015

They Shoot Landlords, Don't They

When I ran as a long-shot independent for mayor in 2005, against Ed Pawlowski and Bill Heydt,  the first thing I did was take The  Morning Call reporter on a tour of the properties that I managed.  As an intercity landlord, operating apartments between 4th and 12th, Walnut and Tilghman Streets,  I knew that the rentals would become  Allentown's biggest problem.  After the WW2,  it became fashionable to live in a twin or small ranch, and Allentown's row houses began being divided into apartments.  Those apartments were mostly occupied by singles or childless couples, and helped keep downtown and Hamilton Street vital, long past many of it's sister cities.  In the 1960's, despite the thousands of converted apartments,  center city was clean, and Allentown was the All American City.  Both the tenants and landlords were hard working and conscientious.  As the urban poor from New York and New Jersey discovered the clean streets of Allentown, and it's moderately priced apartments,  a steady influx of new residents arrived daily.  These changes were not encouraged by the landlords.  Nobody ever purchased a building hoping to replace their conscientious middle class occupants, with a poorer, more problematic tenant base.  Various social agencies staked many of these newcomers to the first month rent and security deposits.  Although politically incorrect, I said at the time that Allentown was creating a poverty magnet.  My phrase and analysis back then is now recognized as an unintended consequence of such programs.  During Heydt's administration, Allentown passed a Rental Inspection Law.  Some viewed  this as the solution to the rental problem, I didn't fully agree;  You cannot legislate pride of ownership. Bad operators could, and easily did, cross the T's and dot the i's.  Pawlowski's solution has been to tag buildings as unfit for habitation, so many,  that the process itself has created blight.  Halls of Shame, either by the city or private groups, only stigmatize both the property and owner, but don't produce a solution.  The programs in place, if applied with more flexibility, can work.  The school district is starting to show concern about the consequences of more apartments and students.  Recent zoning changes allowing the conversion of commercial space by right, rather than by variance, could well add to the problem.  At the end of the day,  all landlords want to see their investment appreciate.  The city must learn to work with that basic incentive as a vehicle for change.

UPDATE:  The post above is reprinted from my archives.  I believe that my background enabled me to write a  concise, accurate synopsis of Allentown's downtown housing situation. Today, we learn that Reilly's City Center and other employers and stakeholders in the NIZ are offering $10,000 incentives for their employees to buy houses in center city. I believe that if the plan is properly administered, it can be a useful tool for Allentown.


Anonymous said...


We/community leaders were trying to get exactly this type of program up and running years ago. It never happened due to an apparent lack of interest from the city leaders.Happy it now seems to be moving forward.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Just for "chuckles" I would like to see the Morning Call re-print this historically accurate past posting of our "Fair" City with the accompanying Update. How do you spell "Fat Chance" HA!
Thank You Michael, and Scott for all you are trying to do here!!
"The Old Allentown Curmudgeon" (PJF)

Anonymous said...

Some 40 years ago, we used to live in an end of the row in the 200 N 15th St in Allentown. For hardware needs we had Werners(?) next to us, and a supermarket down the street. Our neighbor was an elderly lady, whom we used to talk on the front porch about anything. It was a home I loved even today, due to its character. Even if it was in the $10000 give away area, because high taxes for the type of home and expensive services would keep me away. Any of the prices being asked will be artificially inflated, and those who were thinking of selling in that area will come out of the woodwork and breathe "finally!"

michael molovinsky said...

@2:38, i don't think that the plan will result in the house prices being inflated. sellers want to sell, and don't care where the buyer gets the money. there's far too many houses for sale for this plan to be a factor. the offer only applies to employees working downtown with certain companies. those employees with children may reject the offer because of the perception of the allentown school district. other's also may not care to live in center city, despite the incentive. i applaud the effort, but don't think that it will be very successful. it certainly won't effect the overall real estate market.

doug_b said...

50 years ago, I lived in that general vicinity. Living within walking distance to your work place is great (might save you from having two cars) until you decide to change jobs.

There are many negatives: Houses are small, lack storage space, no garage means parking on the street, snow removal problems, and most of all is resale value. I can't see those homes appreciating.

Anonymous said...

I can't get all giddy over this proposal. It reminds me of the student loan/grant scam that the federal government runs. They raise the amount of loans and grants and the colleges immediately raise tuition costs to grab it.
And look who all these "generous" companies are: hospitals, banks, utilities and others sucking on the teat of taxpayers, rate payers, and regulated insurance companies. I'm just waiting to hear that employees of the City are eligible for this 'benefit.'