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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, August 06, 2018

Upside Allentown Facade Grant Program Is Upside Down

Lewnes gets $2,000 from Huertas, she gets at least two grants
CACLV's website proudly proclaims, "We take care of our neighbors." That's true, especially if you're connected. Upside Allentown operates under the CACLV umbrella. Last week, I published an audit of their  facade grant program  It shows clear favoritism towards insiders like Miriam Huertas, Rebecca Torres, Christian Brown and CACLV's very own Main Street Manager Peter Lewnes. It also shows grants to absentee landlords. I was appalled by how Jennings reacted when Allentown residents Shelby Edwards and James Whitney, who prepared this audit, presented him with a summary.

"Feel free to shout your findings from the rooftops," he taunted. He accused them of blackmail. They were seeking their own facade grant for Little Drill, their nifty photography and marketing business at 1122 Hamilton. Main Street manager Pete Lewnes refused to approve it unless they agreed to paint it one of the ugliest colors in existence - battleship grey. His refusal is what prompted their research, but Jennings accused them of a "selfish insistence that you are more worthy than the many others who have gone before you."

Battleship grey. Jennings loves it. 
Those who have gone before them include Lewnes (two possible grants), Torres (four grants), Huertas (at least two grants) and Christian Brown. All insiders.

To his credit, Jennings on Friday asked the state Department of Community and Economic Development to do an independent audit of these facade grants. He also said a meeting concerning this property with the "Physical Design Committee" was imminent, and it is. Turns out it's tonight.

Jennings invited me to his house on Sunday. That way I could tell him in person what a piece of shit he is. When I got there, I also blasted the ugly battleship grey color. Turn out that's what color he painted the inside of his house.

1122 W Hamilton
He admitted he can get arrogant, but added that he sometimes gets frustrated in his losing war on poverty. His approach is different. Most human service agencies will help those who are impoverished, but in condescending ways. Their goal is to get people out of the ghetto where the incentive to fail is strong. Jennings wants those who can leave a blighted neighborhood to stay and improve it.

With respect to Allentown's 7th Street Gateway, where Lewnes is Main Street Manager, Jennings tells me that there was a 25% vacancy rate on 7th Street vacancy rate when Lewnes started working there. Now there are none.

But just as the good things that former Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski did is no excuse for his criminal conduct, the success of the facade grant program is no excuse for abuses in which insiders are getting what really is public money. It is no justification for ignoring their own guidelines.

Upside Allentown is actually the name being used for some reason by The Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown (CADCA). It is funded by eight companies. BBT, TD Bank, and PPL kick in $100,000 per year.In addition, Alvin H. Butz, Inc., City Center Lehigh Valley, Susquehanna Bank, Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Wells Fargo donate $50,000 per year. Because they get tax credits in exchange for their donations, this is really public money. According to an Allentown news release, it is also funded by the City’s Community Development Block Grant and Home Program.

Upside Allentown facade grant guidelines have no standards in place to protect contributing companies and the public from insiders seeking to enrich themselves. Torres is a CADCA Board member. Huertas is a LV Chamber VP who handed a grant to Lewnes. Christian Brown is a member of the Physical Improvements Sub-Committee that supposedly approves these facade grants.

This needs to change to prevent insiders from benefiting.

Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

The facade grant guidelines that are in place are being ignored. These grants are supposed to exist for locally owned properties, not absentee landlords. Why on earth what someone want to encourage investors looking to flip a property?

The Physical Improvements Committee that supposedly approves these grants will meet tonight to review this grant application. This group consists of Pat Jackson, Lewnes, Brown, Joe Calhoun, Dan Bosket, Deb Rubinski and possibly Geoff Brace. Bosket, the Executive Director of CADCA and Peter Lewnes' boss, told Edwards and Whitney that yours truly is unwelcome. "No, we will not be having Bernie O'Hare at the Meeting," he said.

So much for transparency.

I've been kicked out of much nicer places. I know why I'm unwelcome. I learned just this evening that the greed extends beyond the actual grant recipients. Deb Rabinski, who reviews and approves these grants, is actually getting paid $500 for a "design consult." It is entirely inappropriate for her to be sitting on the committee that approves or rejects facade grants. If she's involved in just 10 grants a year, that's $5,000 in her pocket. Some "volunteer." Get this. Lewnes has discretion to award up to $1,000 in design fees, which might explain why he has so many pals. The people who do these designs should have no say in approving these grants.

Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

On top of everything else, there's a $300 fee for each grant application.

This program is being abused by insiders. There are no guidelines to prevent this greed, and what guidelines are in place are being ignored.

Should Upside Allentown refuse to address this situation, the corporations who contribute should be asked to stop. Moreover, Allentown should spend no CDBG money on a program that just promotes a culture of corruption.

Previous stories:

Upside Allentown Facade Grant Program Being Abused

Allentown Facade Grant Abuse Details

This Old House: History of 1122 Hamilton St

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

No vacant properties on 7th? HA! There are plenty. Pete Lewnes himself owns 2 vacant store fronts at 445-447 N 7th. I suspect they'll stay vacant too, as Pete's rents are astronomically high. Speaking of astronomically high, thats precisely what you'd have to be to read this article and then invest one more cent in CACLV or its subsidiaries. Unless of course... they reform!! Firings and resignations need to happen first.

Moontrance said...

Met AJ in 1989. Thought he was crooked then. Hasn't proven me wrong in almost 30 years

Charlie Sch said...

Peter Lewnes's first floor is being actively renovated on the inside, apparently for a new tenant.

Anonymous said...

Still wondering about your recent report on the parks/recreation director two-timing taxpayers. She was in that post for several years. No one at city hall knew?

Anonymous said...

B.O. May find himself in court, how dare he bring up pigs and hogs, to top it off it was three times in a row. Then the story of a constable, you can clearly see a pattern. Reading between the lines of the stories constable CraZy must be filling out a complaint right now.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Still wondering about your recent report on the parks/recreation director two-timing taxpayers. She was in that post for several years. No one at city hall knew?"

It's a culture of corruption.

Anonymous said...

You're saying the meeting tonight,which discusses allocation of public monies on behalf of this facade grant program, will NOT allow the general public (ie, Bernie) to attend?? It's closed door???

Well, that says it all.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jennings has been shaking down banker types for years.
It’s what he does.

No doubt Rabinski was his personal color consultant.
It’s a cosey little group of insiders and Pawlowski hacksters scratching each other’s backs while feeding at the trough.

“A culture of corruption” indeed.
BINGO!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What kind of NFProfit charges a $300 “application fee”?

Anonymous said...

These people, and dozens like them, made the Pawlowski culture of corruption function on a day to day basis. Keep connectioning the dots.
Thank you for what you do.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jennings has aided and abetted this type of behavior for quite some time. It’s all part of the Pawlowski milieu.
The CACLV Board, chosen by Jennings for compliance, has ignored or quietly condoned this behavior from their Ex Director for a long long time. No one paying attention is surprised.
Mr. Jennings real genius is his ability to manage PR and building a following resembling a cult of personality.
He is a brilliant salesman.
There is no oversight.

Anonymous said...

When does the D.A. step in?

Anonymous said...

Alan Jennings thinks, or would have us believe, THAT IT’S HIS “war on poverty!
His ego, like his hubris, has no bounds.
Sept. would be an appropriate time for him to resign along with his tainted team.
Enough of this continuing circus.

Anonymous said...

B O’H, were you also invited to the poker game? There’s going to be an opening at the table in three weeks.

Anonymous said...

Why were you expecting transparency? For years I supported the good work of Sixth Street Shelter with annual donations by checks made out directly to Sixth Street Shelter. The receipts always came back on Sixth Street Shelter stationary. Last year I noticed that the bank showed that the donation was credited to Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. I was shocked to find that my donation was not going to Sixth Street Shelter, but to CACLV and I had no control over which group would receive the benefits. I have no interest in supporting the executive salaries of CACLV or the politics of CACLV. Transparency indeed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The Sixth St Shelter is part of CACLV. If you want your money restricted to the shelter, you could note that when you donate. The shelter and CACLV do a lot of great work. My goal here is to
Make them better.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I did go to a poker game once, about 5 years ago. I think I broke even. The big winner gets about $7.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1:02, the Exec salaries are actually fairly low. Alan does make over $100k, but considering the size of his nonprofit, it’s below what he should get. I did some stories on nonprofit salaries a few months ago and included Alan. As for politics, he has several conservatives on his board.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, and that is why checks were made out directly to Sixth Street Shelter, and the receipts from Sixth Street Shelter led me to believe that was the case, but I was surprised to find that the donation went to the umbrella organization. I caution other donors to be aware of where their donations go.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know what is most important to Alan Jennings - put a mirror in front of him and you'll have your answer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's really unfair, especially anonymously. Alan Jennings has done a lot of good for people and has walked the walk. He has not been a pig about it, but is actually paid less than he should be. He does hold up people who have accumulated wealth, especially banks, but has in the process made banking services available in many communities where banks would stay away. His Rising Tode Loan fund is a wonderful opportunity for small business owners. And the facade program is a proven program. the point of this criticism is to make it better.

Anonymous said...

Is there a bigger self promoter in the Lehigh Valley?

Bernie O'Hare said...

He is not promoting himself. That would be the Donald,

Anonymous said...

How is this nonprofit group even allowed to conduct a meeting in secret?

Anonymous said...

8:51..happens all the time. Hiding behind nonprofit status is allowed by state law. PA is one screwed up state and this is why. Transparency be damned even tho public funds are being expended by a group of people who have no accountability to anyone! Time to get irate!

Anonymous said...

They are required by law to be audited but that does not tell the entire story of why certain people got money and others did not. Those decisions made by the board themselves..behind closed doors.