Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Allentown: Where Did It All Go Wrong?
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.