Friday, April 30, 2021

City Planner Gets Inside Deals

On Monday March 22nd, six members of Allentown City Council held a news conference in front of a distressed apartment building and declared war on slumlords. For many of Allentown’s most vulnerable renters the event represented a much needed prioritization of an issue that’s been dogging Allentown for years. But it wasn’t the first time an alleged slumlord has been publicly shamed in front of his own property, and if the past is prologue, we should all watch what happens next very, very carefully.

In 2008, Mayor Ed Pawlowski held a news conference at 343 and 345 N Ninth St, and publicly accused the owner, a man named Adam Thor, of being a slumlord. Pawlowski publicly added Thor’s name to the Landlords Hall of Shame. Remarkably, those properties would eventually be purchased by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Allentown (RACA) in 2009 for a combined $191,000 and sold to Christian Brown, a member of the City of Allentown City Planning commission for $500 each. Mr. Thor sold the properties to RACA at the urging of The Old Allentown Preservation Association (OAPA), a non-profit of which Christian Brown was a board member at the time. In a letter dated Oct 18th, 2008, OAPA encouraged Thor to sell his homes to RACA so they could be converted into “single family owner occupied homes”. That letter was signed by a man named James Villaume who also served on the Allentown Planning Commission and the Blighted Property Review Committee.

According to Transaction Detail Reports, during a period of roughly 5 year when the properties were being held by RACA, the City of Allentown spent thousands of dollars on trash removal, insurance and roof repairs to the properties. During that same time period Christian Brown was appointed to the Allentown planning commission by Ed Pawlowski and played a crucial role as an ally in implementing Pawlowski’s downtown redevelopment agenda.

In July 2013, RACA discussed 4 properties they were selling using an RFP process- 330 N 9th, 340 1/2 N 9th, 343 N 9th and 345 N 9th. The RFP’s included a minimum bid of $10,000 or best offer. Ultimately two of those properties were sold to Habitat for Humanity for $10,001, and the other two were sold to Christian Brown for $1,000. Despite Habitat for Humanity's mission statement being in line with what the goals of the Redevelopment Authority, they were charged 10 times more than Christian Brown for two similar houses on the same block.

Adam Thor maintains that his homes were not blighted, and that at the time of Pawlowski's press conference he was in the process of fixing them up. It may be too late now to determine the state the properties were in at the time of the acquisition. However I did find minutes from a June 14, 2014 meeting in which RACA members discussed their activities being integrated into the city, and the city trying to get RACA to condemn a property that was not blighted. In that meeting RACA attorney C. Collins Brown described that the process of integrating RACA into the city had begun the previous August. This indicates that the sale of 343 and 345 N 9th St to Christian Brown, who was a city planner at the time, was illegal. PA Urban Development Law states- “No member or employee of an Authority shall acquire any interest, direct or indirect, in any redevelopment project or in any property included or planned to be included in any redevelopment area”. It seems Mr Brown should have never been eligible to receive RACA property, because he was an official of the city, which was co-managing RACA.

There is also evidence that Christian Brown had been planning to buy 343 and 345 N 9th St for years before he ultimately closed on the deal. 343 and 345 N 9th are row homes that share a wall with 347 North 9th St. In November of 2008, A few months before Mr. Thor would sell both his properties to RACA, Christian Brown purchased 347 N 9th St for $40,000 more than its previous owner had paid for it just three years earlier. Nationally, that November, the median price of a home had fallen 13 percent, the sharpest decline in the previous 4 decades. Records show that the house was never listed on the MLS, which could indicate that Mr. Brown may have approached the owner with an off-market offer. The details of this transition make sense when you consider that Christian Brown, as a board member of OAPA was intimately aware of, and in-fact directly involved in the redevelopment of N. 9th St.

After purchasing the homes, the Upside Allentown Physical Improvements Sub-Committee Awarded Christian Brown with a facade grant to purchase new historically appropriate windows for his properties. Christian Brown was a member of that Sub-Committee as well.

Today, as a member of the Allentown Planning Commission, Christian Brown continues to vote on matters pertaining to blighted properties. Every one of those properties represents a potential financial windfall for City of Allentown Officials, including Brown himself. The same logic that Christian Brown used to justify buying his second and third houses from the Redevelopment Authority could just as easily be applied to a third and fourth house.

On April 28th 2020 Christian Brown’s life and business partner Angie Johnson published plans on Facebook to turn all three homes into one large urban villa, complete with a swimming pool and bar. Angie Johnson has also worked for the City of Allentown.

Blogger's Note: To be fair, I emailed Christian Brown about this story and also called his office and advised that I wished to speak to him concerning this deal. If he does reply, I will publish what he says.  

8 am update: Blogger Michael Molovinsky's story about this property, before it was bought by an insider for pennies on the dollar, is located here.  

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Boom! Welcome to LVR. Wow.

Anonymous said...

So if he was ineligible to receive these properties does he get to keep them?? Another bureaucrat abusing his office.

Anonymous said...

A villa. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't this person in trouble?

Anonymous said...

Just think of all the towns that may have similar situations.

Anonymous said...

The most important information in the Call's Sunday edition...the deed transfers...now hidden in the Sports section.

Anonymous said...

He shouldn't be allowed to resign, he needs to be fired.

Anonymous said...

City employees often are entrusted with confidential information long before the public becomes aware. That's why integrity on the job is important.

Anonymous said...

Certainly doesn't read well for Mr. Brown. It's dangerous to play with matches in the hay barn.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"He shouldn't be allowed to resign, he needs to be fired."

He is not a city employee, but a volunteer member on several boards who possesses inside knowledge and may have had inside connections. I reached out to him by phone and email so he can correct any mistakes in this story.

peterjcochran said...

Sounds like racketeering.,Bernie.

Anonymous said...

He needs to return the properties he bought back to the city for resale.

Blogger Bernie O'Hare said...
"He shouldn't be allowed to resign, he needs to be fired."

He is not a city employee, but a volunteer member on several boards who possesses inside knowledge and may have had inside connections. I reached out to him by phone and email so he can correct any mistakes in this story.

April 30, 2021 at 1:52 PM

Anonymous said...

good piece

Anonymous said...

:
Blogger Bernie O'Hare said...
"He shouldn't be allowed to resign, he needs to be fired."

He is not a city employee, but a volunteer member on several boards who possesses inside knowledge and may have had inside connections. I reached out to him by phone and email so he can correct any mistakes in this story.

Bernie,
You're right. Good points. He can't be fired but if those boards permit him to continue to serve, what does it say about their ethics?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the ex mayor is still tossing salads in and out of the jail walls of camp fed.

Anonymous said...

He needs to be ban for life from any political position or having any association with anything political or governmental and he also needs to be ban from associating in any way from delaying with anyone that receives gives or contributes to governmental activity. He also needs to be ban from any and all of the boards he has been on and may not participate in any other boards boards.

Plus he needs to give back all the properties, plus a fine equal to the value of all those properties. Plus any money gained through or because of the boards that he was on or payments from any organization for the insider information should be seized.

Also those who paid for that insider information should see a similar fate.

Plus all those boards needs to be looked at to see if they had knowledge of what was being done. And if so they should also have punitive actions.

Until we start making it miserable for these people and I mean horrifically miserable for them and those associated with them. It will just continue to happen.

Anonymous said...

Any word from Mr. Brown explaining his actions?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
He needs to be ban for life from any political position or having any association with anything political or governmental and he also needs to be ban from associating in any way from delaying with anyone that receives gives or contributes to governmental activity. He also needs to be ban from any and all of the boards he has been on and may not participate in any other boards boards."

The IRS should review all his property transactions for irregularities if they initially were listed by a non-profit status organization.

Bernie O'Hare said...

No.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion just need to cure the conflict of interest by implementing policies that ensure nothing like this can ever happen again. Also, Christian brown should not be permitted to participate in votes related blighted properties until such policies are enacted. CADCA has yet to update their federal form 990s to reflect that their board members and staff were given grants. So it’s reasonable to assume Christian Brown’s facade grant was not declared on his taxes as an excess benefit transactions, since they were not reported as such on CADCA’s IRS form 990. This might be a bigger problem for Christian than the 99.5% discount that he received on those homes. Another interesting fact that I’m looking into is how both of those beautiful homes were combined on to one deed, and then only assessed for taxes at 105 thousand dollars. This means that he is paying less in property taxes for two houses, than most of his neighbors are for a single home.

JW

Anonymous said...

JW, that is a interesting concept that most likely will involve LVRA Lehigh Valley Realators Association as we a know the criminality is far and wide. Just a suggestion as to how a house of the same makeup pays double the taxes for the same zip code?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Mr. Thor has a slam dunk lawsuit against the city for defrauding him.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is talking about returning the properties, paying fines, and such, but in my opinion what should be the end result is prison time for these corrupt officials. If the City paid $191,000 for the two homes, completely overpriced, and turned around and sold them to Mr Brown for $1,000, then there is a serious problem of corruption, especially if these people are STILL working with the City!! They were getting rich off the backs of City taxpayers, and who knows what other properties or persons received these kinds of inside deals. A complete investigation should be held, money and properties returned to the City, and those involved should face criminal charges.