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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Allentown: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Someone asked that question in a comment yesterday.

One person answered,

"Great question. Molovinsky could probably write a thesis for us. However some social and political scientists point to two key turning points. The first (social) was the introduction of low income public housing in the city and subsequent 'white flight.' The other (political) would be the disastrous financial mismanagement during the Afflerbach administration."

Despite the claim that some unidentified social and political scientists point to these two issues as key turning points in the City's history, this person is wrong.

Low income public housing has been part of Allentown's landscape since the 1930s. Hanover Acres and Riverview Terrace - now Overlook Park developed by Pennrose "We Love Ed" Properties- were some of the first public housing projects in the country and part of the Roosevelt "New Deal." In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt cut the ribbon for Hanover Acres.

Project type public housing fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s and was replaced with scattered site, Section 8 contracts, that could be used anywhere if the economics were favorable to a property owner. Allentown and many of its landlords availed themselves of this program instead of allowing the Allentown Housing Authority to do more projects - except elderly high rises.

The same thing happened in many cities, but Allentown had a perfect storm of middle class flight - not just white - and vacant houses that were converted, because of lax zoning enforcement and permissive city codes, to inexpensive multi-family housing which became Section 8 subsidized.

The middle class started leaving Allentown because of the Allentown School District's shortcomings as well as the sea change in demographics in the City's neighborhoods, especially those in Center City. Allentown had a poverty problem, and the ability to fill rental housing with low-income tenants, subsidized by Section 8 contracts, just exacerbated the poverty problem in the neighborhoods.

While the neighborhoods and school system continued to decline, Allentown, like many other cities, focused all of its attention and resources on Hamilton Street and the Central Business District, ignoring the neighborhoods around them. We have learned nothing from the past, since the NIZ is more of the same, only on steroids. You can't change a city solely by changing its Central Business District and commercial core.

As for the financial mismanagement under Mayor Roy Afflerbach, the seeds of financial ruin were planted long before Afflerbach became Mayor. The City Council and many before them have to share a lot of the blame by caving in to the Police and Fire unions, giving them anything they wanted because of fear and the mistaken idea that without a strong police force there could be no strong Central Business District and business community.

The final crushing blows were unsustainable pension plans for police, fire and even non-uniform city unions. Afflerbach and his City Council can be blamed for the last round of insane pension deals. Ed Pawlowski was there, too, but he has a short memory and hopes the public does, too. We are still not out of that hole and our water system was sold into bondage to help pay for the gluttonous city unions and their unconscionable pension plans - especially police.

Time will tell if the water lease is nothing more than another way to raise taxes without actually doing so. I could go on, but perhaps I should wait for that Molovinsky thesis.


Anonymous said...

I'd say the Morning Call ialso attributed to the downfall of Allentown in a big way, Afflerbach came to power in large part because Heydt
Would not cave to the police/fire pension demands. The morning call unabashedly ripped Heydt as anti Union, the state FOP marched on Hamilton street, and Afflerbach promised to fix everything.

Anonymous said...

the spanish speaking welfare bums, crime loving, dope peddling thugs are what really ruined a city that was already a dump.

Anonymous said...

A MAJOR problem in the decline was brought on by America increasingly growing into a nanny state. Government benefits, in the aggregate, meant able bodied people would be attracted to a lifestyle that required no employment, particularly if the new families remain headed by unmarried adults. People flocked to the central cities because that's were the buildings that doled out the benefits and services were located, and there was bus service, if needed.

This new society had no stake in building a strong community. That was someone else's job. They moved freely from one residence to another, never establishing a sense of responsibility to succeed within their neighborhood. Their existence at that location wasn't likely to last, anyway. Idle time led to boredom and mischief.

Schools filled with kids who never saw a need to "buy-in." To study, do homework, nor take testing seriously. Behavior declined due to relaxed standards and an expectation there would be 25 "second chances" to fall back on.

The students didn't reflect the values held by the school. The school came to reflect the missing values of the students. Failure became OK. That's what we got.

Certainly, there are many fine new families moving in. I came to know many. In addition, someone like Alan Jennings would provide a much different description, with a different solution. But, in the end, GOVERNMENT has created this mess.

Fred Windish

Bernie O'Hare said...

"the spanish speaking welfare bums, crime loving, dope peddling thugs are what really ruined a city that was already a dump."

Or maybe racists like you.

Anonymous said...

Overthinking the problem.

We have a habit around here electing politicians who have their eyes set on bigger scenes before they are even elected.

Examples include Don Cunningham who wasn't happy enough to be county executive. Mayor Ed who really wasn't happy being mayor that he ran for both governor and the senate.

That results in those people treating those they lead and the organizations they manage as a resource to be consumed for personal gain.

Anonymous said...

That's right were are all the jobs that this massive miscalculation with there head count as the propogated federal monies allocated not even to mention the palumpadome circus creation with the same old Z at the end with a different twist in the circus she'll trix¿ Still not one life sustaining job created or even a family living wage job to mention¿

patent pending

Anonymous said...


The decline of the Allentown school district can be traced back directly to the decline of the city. There is of course a direct correlation between the health of any city/regional district and its school district. In short, wealthier areas have better funded and higher quality schools while poorer district have less money and more problems. The descent of the Allentown School District from one of the state's best to its current status simply mirrors the general decline of the city. Even with all the building downtown and all the good news stories in the media, the rate of poverty, as defined by the federal government, continues to climb in the district.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...


you just can't handle the truth

Anonymous said...

I always feel that we have enough laws (rules); the problem is that we rarely enforce the ones currently on the books. I have to believe that in a well-managed city, existing laws are used to prevent this type of situation. Is Allentown well-managed?


Anonymous said...

Mr.Jennings was certainly quite helpful in the contribution he made to the NIZ.
He has always been there whenever he was needed, whatever the job at hand,

Anonymous said...

I hate to blame them, but it was the banks. Allentown was home to the largest banks in the region and the state. They employed a lot of people in the downtown, made many loans to businesses throughout the community, and, most important, provided sufficient mortgages to property purchasers in the city. Then, the banks left. The shopping employees left. Business loans ceased. And, no more real estate loans - just a lot of red lines. The replacements were more comfortable with loans with little equity to suburban properties. You needed a bigger down payment for the city. The vacuum sucks in the investor who leverages other equity against bargain basement prices. Your traditional homeowner leaves. Allentown was victim to a series of bad labor negotiations which undermined the city financially. Blame could be placed on a lot of actors. But, one alternative that Allentown did not seek was to increase real estate taxes, an option that it has avoided. Because it does not seek that alternative, it only gives license to arbitrators to return higher awards. The capacity to tax does not go away. It is there to be used as exhibit a in the next arbitration. Drive up and down center city streets and look at the housing stock, not the people living there. The quality of the housing is incredible.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, it was the banks.

Yes, it was because Local Big Government refused to raise taxes.

You forgot to mention Racism.

And the fact that no one has been convicted of anything.