Feb 9, 2014

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: There will be a special public meeting with City Council Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m., concerning the housing problems in Allentown. The flyer below was created by the Tenant Association of Allentown. Although I do not agree with all their methods, this blog supports the concept of advocacy in Allentown, and is glad to publicize their agenda.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Everybody knows, except for the poverty stricken renters, that the influx of poor urban renters are the biggest problem concerning Allentown's housing, not the owners. The poor blame the landlords and city officials for their living conditions instead of having more pride and better work ethic to change those conditions. Its such a shame, but it's a representation of how entitlements have made the poor virtually unable to do anything for themselves and instead just depend on government programs. If the programs get reduced they will surely blame the city and owners for clogging the toilet insteand of buying a plunger

michael molovinsky said...

@9:54, i generally want to avoid the issues you raise and concentrate on practical solutions to questions facing allentown. but, toward your comment, i will say that $228,000.00 per apartment remodeling costs, such as cumberland gardens, surely can't be the solution.

Monkey momma said...

It seems to me that the solutions for a community's problems lie with the residents themselves. Many of Allentown's residents do not seem inclined to do a damned thing for anyone but themselves, and even those efforts appear to be bare minimum. (For example, getting completely dressed and out of your pajamas is no longer required for errands.) On the other hand, there are so many good, hard working people in Allentown who do not support their neighbors' slovenly ways. What we are witnessing is the age-old battle of good versus evil. Sadly, the good guys will not win if our politicians continue to ignore the law of unintended consequences. Our community needs to spend even more time praising and propping up the good guys, and less time enabling the problems.

michael molovinsky said...

monkey momma@11:15, in that regard years ago allentown has a property of merit program, that included apartment houses. maybe the carrot would work better than the stick.

Guy Williams said...

Some would say that now more than ever the city needs a properties of merit program. However at the same time its also very important to have a Mayor that focuses on the neighborhoods as well. Whats going on downtown is a signed deal, complete and move on to a focus on the neighborhoods.Very simply, clean and safe.

monkey momma said...

MM, Properties of Merit was a sham of a program. I don't think golden rakes are quite what I had in mind. The last thing this town needs is another Sam Bennett.

michael molovinsky said...

monkey momma@2:44, i believe that the only opportunity for meaningful political change in allentown is from within the democratic party. then the question is who from within would have the will and ability to displace pawlowski and the status quo. this blog will explore that question in the very near future.

TAOA said...

Just remember we are not out to attack all landlords only the slumlords who do not take care of their properties and milk them. Also remember slumlords are contributing to a few problems in the city such as the homeless problem. We do not dispute that there are bad tenants because there are but if we dont hold slumlords and absentee landlords accountable then everything will just continue the way it is. These property owners who let properties deterioate while they live in nice homes in macungie, center valley, out of state, etc should not be acceptable. It has worked in other cities across the country to expose these property owners.

michael molovinsky said...

taoa @4:31, i posted about the hall of shame when introduced by pawlowski. the city ended up rewarding the neglect, by buying the properties at considerably more than the owner paid, or would have ever realized from the market.

i'm not an opponent of your initiatives, but believe that they should be very considered and measured. it's not proper to link landlords with the homeless problem, most evicted move somewhere else, using the rent money never paid to the first landlord. landlords actually reduce homelessness, by absorbing non-paying tenants until which time they enact eviction, and taking a risk on many others.

TAOA said...

I wasn't talking about tenants getting evicted. I am talking about when properties become tagged unfit due to the landlord. Conferences of churches doesnt have much funds every year because they are helping so many displaced tenants. If landlords were held accountable when their properties get tagged due to their neglect then it would help releive some money to help the homeless. For example there is a relocation program used in oakland that when a property gets tagged due to the landlord's neglect the landlord is repsonsible for paying to help relocate the tenant and not a non-profit organization or the city unless the landlord refuses to pay but then they go after the landlord for the money. The city failed with it's redevolpment authority and it was inactive for a long time. We kept hounding them about it and now they are selling properties they own. Some they have been sitting on for years.

Anonymous said...

even a slumlord or absentee landlord is held accountable for their actions.If a building is unsafe, they lose their income but continue to pay taxes. Tenants, on the other hand,have no accountability whatsoever. If a tenant litters on the sidewalk who gets fined? . . . the landlord of course. If a tenant keeps the water running or breaks into the locked thermistat the landlord pays for it and the tenant just gets evicted and moves onto the next place. Bad credit means nothing to them. . . no accountability. That is the problem

Anonymous said...

Mike,

The only part of the Rental Inspections program Ed ever appreciated was the fees which he raised and threw into the general fund.
One only need walk down any downtown street to see houses with multiple mailboxes newly nailed to the front. Those of us who reside here know of illegal boarding homes on our blocks. From what I can tell, and have been told, the city's building inspectors are operating on a complain basis, and tagging what they see on their way. There is nothing systematic about the process. Ed Pawlowski rode into town as an advocate for quality low income housing. Look at what he presides over today and notice the company he prefers to keep. Who will disagree that his only plan to save the downtown is gentrification. While I am at it where is Allen Jennings on the deplorable state of housing in the downtown and other areas of the city? Big silence on that front. Very disappointing.Where's the integrity?

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

taoa@5:01, the problem with the orange tags is that in some cases they have been used indiscriminately, such as tagging buildings for as little as some peeling exterior paint. as noted by 5:25, tagged buildings must continue to pay mortgage and taxes. we do not need to import programs from oakland or anywhere else. we have enough regulations to cover all situations, the problem has been in the equal implementation.

TAOA said...

I dont know about the indiscriminately of tagged building but if you have proof of this then please share. I think a relocation program would help here in Allentown. As I said when a rental gets tagged unfit the tenant is displaced which they then turn to conference of churches. You can even ask Diane Teti about this. Yes the landlord still has to pay taxes but the landlord shouldnt neglect the property to the point where it gets tagged unfit in the first place. If the property gets tagged unfit due to the tenant then that's different. You also have landlords in this city that just remove the tag and rent it out again until caught. Regarding the inspection program we have. Right now it is a 5 year inspection cycle but because code enforcement doesnt have the manpower there are rentals going 10+ years without being inspected. Thats over a decade! Not acceptable!

Anonymous said...

TAOA,

There is no 5 year rental inspection program. My sources tell me there are plenty of inspectors. The problem is the direction they/building inspectors are receiving.

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

taoa@6:08, during the history of this blog i have documented buildings that should have been tagged and weren't, and visa versa. these programs and their implementation have consequences, and have to be applied with integrity and consistency. in 2011, former head of code eric weiss ran for city council, i hoped that you voted for him; that was your opportunity to put your agenda on council, instead of just in front of it.

Anonymous said...

TAOA,

Talk to council.Might as well address a brick wall, you will get the same results. Been there, done that,along with countless others.
The people who populate that chamber are there for a reason and it has nothing to do with listening to the concerns/complaints of Allentown's residents.

Scott Armstrong

Guy Williams said...

With all due respect monkey mamma the Shawn Millan talking point about golden rakes was in fact a large gift bag from home depot containing over three hundred dollars worth of garden tools and supplies given to the yearly winner.Overall like your input over the years just had to clarify your remark.

TAOA said...

Yes ther is a 5 year inspection cycle. There are only 10 rental inspectors for over 27,000 rentals in the city. Go down to code enforcement and the inspectors names are all listed on the board. We have meetings with the housing supervisor and code coordiantor and they both tell us how they don't have the manpower to even get to rentals on the west end for another year. I dont know where your getting your information from but it is wrong. I agree there are some that should have been tagged but weren't. I have been in that situation already. I personally wasnt involved in politics until recently when we started this association and that was two years ago.

Guy Williams said...

In my dream world Tom Burke would be back on council and Eric Weiss would be the Republican candidate for Mayor.

Anonymous said...

TAOA,

and you believe them....

Scott Armstrong

TAOA said...

And you beleive your source? The board is right there showing you how many inspectors they have. The many says there are 45 inspectors in the city but he is adding building standards and safety, health, zoning, etc. Code enforcement which is a department of BSAS is the department who is repsonsible for rental inspections. BSAS has their own inspectors for commericial building or when they are needed for a structure issue. I'm going to put a right to know in to get proof of the 10 rental inspectors. I already have inspection reports proving rentals are going 10+ years without being inspected.

TAOA said...

Something else to add. We have been nailing landlords who register rentals that they live there and are illegally enrolled in the homestead act which gives them up to 500 reduction on their school taxes. One landlord so far didnt even have a rental license. We reported three landlords so far saving the school district up to possibly 1500 dollars. We currently found about six more to report. Thats possibly 4500 dollars a year. Imagine how many landlords might be doing this. This is something the school district and the county need to look into.

Anonymous said...

TAOA,

I don't doubt the number of inspectors. What everyone should question is their claim they don't have enough inspectors to do the job. According to my sources, which have been in the city for many years,there are more inspectors now than ever.Yet the blight gets worse not better. What does that tell you. Contact me directly. Let's talk. We are on the same side.

Scott Armstrong

TAOA said...

I meant the mayor is saying there is 45 inspectors.

Rich Fegley said...

In the past two years I've learned that the business of POVERTY is very profitable for certain individuals and organizations.

"$228,000.00 per apartment remodeling costs, such as cumberland gardens"

$220k to renovate 3-bedroom units into remodeled 2-bedroom units. Now families have less bedrooms with more room for beds.

The problem is not with the residents themselves. The problem is the "modern day slavery" that we have created. The wealthy keep all of us "poor" and make us work long hours like slaves for minimal wages.

Poverty creates profits for some people. Poverty creates jobs for unions. Poverty creates construction contracts for builders. Poverty is a business.

I have to agree with Mr. Armstrong:

"Ed Pawlowski rode into town as an advocate for quality low income housing. Look at what he presides over today and notice the company he prefers to keep. Who will disagree that his only plan to save the downtown is gentrification. While I am at it where is Allen Jennings on the deplorable state of housing in the downtown and other areas of the city? Big silence on that front. Very disappointing.Where's the integrity?"

I don't know Eric Weiss but I'm told he is a nice guy who was fired by Pawlowski. I agree with MM here:

"these programs and their implementation have consequences, and have to be applied with integrity and consistency. in 2011, former head of code eric weiss ran for city council, i hoped that you voted for him; that was your opportunity to put your agenda on council, instead of just in front of it."

The poor and needy in this City are not getting the full services and support that they are supposed to be receiving. How could the officials at the Allentown Housing Authority approve a project that OVERSPENDS and wastes money that should be going to help those who need it. This "overspending" is PROFITS in a contrator's pocket.

When are people finally going to speak up and speak up loudly?

I'll be speaking up loudly for the fourth time about Mayor Ed Pawlowski's $133,000,000 loss on the Delta Thermo Energy contract that was sold to City Council and the Public based on lies and misinformation.

I can't imagine what I will find once I start looking closer at the these Allentown boards, authorities, commissions and committees.

We have all been busy working like slaves for the wealthy. Let's take some time now to look at the corruption here LOCALLY and do something about it.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming post MM:

"i believe that the only opportunity for meaningful political change in allentown is from within the democratic party. then the question is who from within would have the will and ability to displace pawlowski and the status quo. this blog will explore that question in the very near future."

michael molovinsky said...

to taoa: scott armstrong was one of the advocates for the rental inspection law in 1998, you would find him a tired-less ally. i found your phone number on the taoa facebook page, and passed the number along to scott. as a disclaimer, i opposed the ordinance in 98, as did many of the conscientious landlords back then; we found the concept intrusive and stigmatizing. i can tell you that the housing stock is in much worse condition today than it was then.

Anonymous said...

Comrade Molovinsky, I must respectfully protest!

Exactly what is the definition of "wealthy"?

And since I have brought up the subject of finances --- exactly how much money has the Brewworks received from the Government in the form of grant monies, etc.

"We have all been working like slaves for the wealthy"

Am I REALLY supposed to fall for THAT tired, old propaganda???

Sincerely,

COL. VIKTOR TIKHONOV
Soviet Red Army (ret)

michael molovinsky said...

rolf@10:12, that phrase also struck me as odd, but fegley has been doing heavy lifting as an activist, which i appreciate. on a side note, sam zell noted in a recent interview that this country has entered a new era where wealth is now met with envy, instead of emulation, as in our past.

Anonymous said...

Pride in ownership is missing in allentown. I dont have a problem with rentals that are cared for but there are too many properties that shouldn't have a license. If ten inspectors completed 2-3 inspections everyday most of the 27,000 would be completed in 5 years minus apartment buildings with onsite mgt/maint. Maybe the parking authority would do a better job

michael molovinsky said...

it's my understanding that the staff assigned to the systematic rental inspections has been greatly reduced, and that most of the inspectors are being assigned to complaints, or questionable buildings observed by the administration. if so, that strategy seems reasonable. it's not easy being a good landlord. the worst tenants are the most aggressive about getting their foot in the door. so just between the new green landlords, and the burnt out ones, there's enough problems for the city.

Anonymous said...

Or just too many rental licenses issued. It seems like they dont have a problem collecting the license fee but cannot manage the monster they created.

Anonymous said...

Will there be enough seats with the new egineered downgrade at allentown counsil chambers to hold all? Than will the line to speak be treated as less than by some on counsil?

We all know that the beautiful IRON LADIES sack will be intact in this matter on the publics behalf!

redd
patent pending

Anonymous said...

I think the TAOA needs to leave the homeless issue alone. They seem to be using the current homeless issue to try and gain publicity on the backs of the less fortunate.

TAOA said...

We are not trying to gain publicity with the homeless issue. Our VP was homeless before we started this association and he started attending city council meetings for that reason. Slumlords do play a role in the homeless issue when their properties are getting tagged unfit and then the tenants are displaced. Regardless if the homeless issue was being addressed or not we still would be advocating what we advocate.

Rich Fegley said...

FYI. Less than 10 citizens were in attendance at Wednesday's special meeting of City Council. All members were present except for Cynthia Mota.

No real action items.

Just plans to make plans.

Steven Zuby said...

Everyone here completely misses the cause.There are no decent paying jobs in Allentown.No industries such as Mack Trucks,Western Electric and Lehigh Structural Steel.The thing that these industries was -create wealth by adding value-taking raw steel and making a truck,a bunch of wires and making a phone,ect.Government money doesn,t make value it only uses someone elses money that has been taxed.So the renters you get are going to be 95% the recipient class because they cannot afford to live anywhere else and no one with means wants to live in Allentown.I knew this all to well when I was a landlord in the 90s when the housing stock was marginal at best.I had some"good tenants" but if they lost a job or funding dried up ar became two months or later in rent the rent would be used on the next place.So any landlord cannot rely on a continued income to make major repairs or upgrades.In addition there is cost for cleanup and repairs after a tenant leaves.So to"solve the problem real jobs must come back without there is no point in rehashing"slumlords are the problem"as the next step for Atowns future is the bulldozer.