Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Voices in the Wilderness

May 6, 2010 10:34 pm by  
Filed under News, Politics

Blogger’s Note: The primary purpose of the following post was to highlight the email message that Charlie Versaggi distributed yesterday to city council and the city administration, continuing to point out the issues with council’s approval of the funding for the proposed 7th St low income housing project. The point being that council’s approval is not the end of the objections to the lack of vision being shown regarding Allentown’s future.

The main point of discussion has been waylaid by the detail of council’s vote relating to the funding. Jarrett Renshaw of the Morning Call and Councilman Michael Donovan have both weighed in this morning with clarifications of council’s vote on this project. Jarrett to say that yesterday’s story was not as clear as it could have been and Michael to post a written explanation in the comments to this post. I thank both of them for their consideration.

The main premise of this post remains: I encourage you to scroll down and read Charlie Versaggi’s well reasoned message to the city’s leadership.

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It was discouraging to open today’s Morning Call and read that Allentown City Council had done the exact opposite of what I suspect most tax-paying citizens wanted them to do: Council, by a 5-1 vote Wednesday, The final vote was actually 6-0 by which City Council agreed to use $433,333 in federal funds to support a proposed project that will build low to moderate income apartment units at 22. N. Seventh St., site of the former Corporate Plaza.

I am simply at a loss to understand how council could justify this vote. Looking over the larger picture of the city’s current condition and the ripple effect of such a decision on everything from the potential need for increased security to the increased demand on the school system, it boggles the mind that people elected to look out for the overall good of ALL Allentown’s citizens, would allow this project to go forward. Surely there are better, more productive uses for that money.

In an attempt to try to reason with council, a respected member of the community spoke out. Charlie Versaggi, a former Air Products exec and former member of the Allentown School Board, was quoted in an article on Wednesday, May 5, urging that the focus be placed “exclusively on adding middle- to upper-income housing for the next 10 years to achieve a healthy housing stock mix”.

Council approved the plan at Wednesday night’s meeting, and Charlie Versaggi has again spoken out. Addressing city council and the city administration in an email which he has shared with this blog, his message follows reproduced exactly as I received it. Thank you, Charlie, for continuing to be a voice in the wilderness that has become public policy in Allentown.

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To: ‘damore@allentowncity.org’; ‘donovan@allentowncity.org’; ‘eichenwald@alletowncity.org’; ‘schweyer@allentowncity.org’; ‘oconnell@allentowncity.org’; ‘guridy@allentowncity.org’; ‘schlossberg@allentowncity.org’
Cc: ‘Petelewnes@aol.com’; ‘ungers@allentowncity.org’; ‘hanlon@allentowncity.org’; Ed Pawlowski (Pawlowski@allentowncity.org)
Subject: "Affordable Housing"

I just got back into town and read that Council is supporting the Lancaster HDC’s proposal for the 7th Street project.  In spite of my telephone conversation with the Mayor Tuesday evening, I’m still not on board with this.  My concern is that we’re adding to the number of low-income housing units when we should be doing exactly the opposite. What we should be doing is setting a target of a maximum number of low-income families in the City (let’s use 25-30%) as a starting point and produce a plan that gets us down to that number.  I told the Mayor that the City needs to take a minimum of 200 slum units off the street –the City, AEDC or another City agency can acquire them and bulldoze them.

I don’t believe anyone should live in a slum, and I don’t believe this City should tolerate slums (and we aren’t). But it is not healthy or sustainable for a City and School District to support the  70+% level of poverty in its school system. And it’s not like we only have a 2% unemployment rate either – it’s closer to 10% – so that even if we provide additional housing, there’s still no work for these folks.

Please let me re-iterate, I’m not anti-poor… but we cannot have a healthy City at the current levels of poverty. We are doing the poor in this City a disservice by putting the City into a poverty hole that neither the City or its citizens can dig-out of.

I’ve attached my February e-mail to your for reference and below are comments I posted to the Morning Call story on Council’s decision.

To add insult to injury, assuming this project will be owned by a non-profit, not only will your and my federal and state tax dollars help to fund this, but it will be off the City’s and School District’s tax rolls too!!!
As I told the Mayor Tuesday night, for starters, I want to see 200 deeds of scum landlords acquired by the city and those properties bulldozed – without that scale (larger actually) of slum housing razed, these "affordable" projects only net-increase the poverty level in the City. If you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else!
Charlie Versaggi.

versagcj (05/06/2010, 4:22 PM )

In addition to taking a minimum of 200 slum units off the city’s roster, I suggest we require the Lancaster HDC to make this property a true “mixed income” property and contractually agree to the following housing mix for the first 10 years of operation: 34% Low Income, 33% Middle and 33% Higher Income. That would be good for the City. If those conditions prevent the Lancaster HDC from qualifying for the use of my tax money to build the project – tough.

Best regards,

Charlie

Comments

10 Responses to “Voices in the Wilderness”
  1. Scott Armstrong says:

    Pam,

    Years of experience taught me that one might as well address a vacant lot than our city council. They have been that bad for the past ten years and when the city voters removed Burke the move to total rubber stamp was complete.

    Scott Armstrong

  2. LVCI says:

    When I first read it, deep down I felt something move inside me and voices saying .. “build it and they will come… Build it and they will come”. I’m not entirely sure but I thought it was the devil’s voice.

    Turns out I only had gas and the mayor was speaking on TV.

    Well I was almost right about one of em’ anyway :-)

  3. Monkey Momma says:

    I guess the grant is what is driving this particular project. Would the mayor and council want to build this project (and I do mean project) if the grant hadn’t been offered? Of course not.

    I did read that the units would only be 2 bedrooms large so as to “lessen the impact” on ASD. However, any impact on the ASD is beyond acceptable. I simply do not understand how the schools in Allentown can continue with a decreasing tax base and an increasing student population.

    Also, the folks that live downtown, by and large, WANT to work. (Yes, I know many will disagree, but my personal friendships downtown indicate a strong work ethic in the majority of cases.) The problem, of course, is the lack of jobs – not only downtown, but in the entire region. Will this new project be full of folks new to the area who are competing for the same small number of jobs our current residents already cannot find?

    In any event, it is not hard to understand WHY this project is happening – it’s just another case of Allentown following the grant money. This is not surprising, and it’s exactly how many of our residents act – simply fill out the forms and wait for the money to roll in from “grants.” Allentown seems to have abandoned the basic principles of simple economics here and is doomed to only add to the economic burden low income families bring. It’s nothing personal – just the harsh truth. We cannot afford the low income burden we already carry here – why on earth would we add to it???

  4. Michael Donovan says:

    Hi Pam,

    The newspaper wrote an ambiguous story that I’ll clarify here and at my blog.

    1) I spent considerable time asking questions about the entire CDBG bill because I questioned, among other concerns:
    a. Why so much of the funds are used for general fund expenditures “linked” to community development? About $1,500,000 out of $3,500,000 (There are other CDBG funds. However, those are associated with construction projects — like the 7th street housing/retail.
    b. The correlation between an agency’s request, the grant score, and the final grant recommendation.
    c. Why is that the Allentown Health Department can run a summer program for 250 to 300 children at a cost of about $46,000, and we cannot find more money for such programs?

    2) After this, I tried to separate the project from the entire CDBG bill. The solicitor said that was not possible. I withdrew that request.

    3) I moved to strike the project from the bill. I gave my reasons:
    a. I had voted for the cell phone bill when I really did not want to and woke up the next day regretting my vote because it was inconsistent with the criteria I use to handle city/state jurisdiction.

    b. My economic development experience said that this project did not fit the location and I wanted to keep the city’s options open as the economy returns, energy prices increase, and a “logical” economic/development strategy is developed.

    c. The project was not placed within the context of an overall city plan, which needs to include socio and economic strategies.

    d. I did not want to wake up on Thursday and say that I did not try to get my message across.

    4) The vote on the amendment was 1 (yes) and 5 (no). I was the yes vote.

    5) There was an additional $234,000 added to the bill labled as “Economic Development Program.” However, the administration could not yet say how that money was to be used. Council added an amendment noting that council musst be involved in the decision process for that money. As usual, the administration, while accepting the amendment, noted that the Mayor has disbursement and control responsibility.

    It was a long night. Hope the above clarifies.

  5. Michael Donovan says:

    Pam,

    Sorry, I forgot one very important point! As noted, I wanted the project out of the CDBG bill. I wanted that because I wanted to vote for the other items (or at least most) in the bill. Thus the final vote was 6-0.

    My apologies.

  6. Michael Donovan says:

    Here is what I added at my blog.

    6) I DID NOT INCLUDE THIS IN THE ORIGINAL POST because I forgot to. My apologies. I was wrapped up in explaining my reasons for the amendment. I voted for the entire CDBG bill because I felt the other programs (or at least most) were ok. I know some people will not like that I did, but I felt it was needed. This the problem with the charter and the strong Mayor form of government. We often are put into a squeeze play. There are a variety of edicts on how the CDBG plan is established that come from the administration and beyond our control. The CDBG plan had to be submitted to the Federal Government by 5/14. In other words, if we did not vote for the plan, many deserving community agencies would have lost funding.

  7. Pamela says:

    Scott,

    It’s very discouraging to see some of the votes coming out of this council. I truly don’t understand the thought process. We may have a “strong mayor” form of government, but council has much more power than they exercise.

    And yes, when we lost Tom Burke, any hope of a differing opinion was lost with him.

  8. Pamela says:

    Michael,

    I appreciate you taking the time to offer such a thorough explanation of the confusion that swirled around the council votes. Jarrett Renshaw also called to say that his story could have been more concise. I’m posting a clarification now.

  9. only someone living in center city, like versaggi, would endorse such a plan, it is ridiculous. I would bet he would like the apartments houses near him bulldozed first. Allentown loses about $150,000 on each deconversion of just a two unit. even with two units, and most buildings are larger, his plan would cost $30 million dollars. meanwhile, if the city is still allowing “loft apartments” in former commercial buildings and building more units, the tenants would just move down the street. his plan fails because he is politically correct; he blames the landlords, instead of the tenants. until he realizes that nobody buys a property looking to downgrade their tenant base, no solution will be found. you cannot solve the problem blaming “slumlords”, while allowing the advocates, such as alan jennings, to keep promoting the area with more low income housing at the same time.

  10. Looking To Escape says:

    “In any event, it is not hard to understand WHY this project is happening – it’s just another case of Allentown following the grant money. This is not surprising, and it’s exactly how many of our residents act – simply fill out the forms and wait for the money to roll in from “grants.” Allentown seems to have abandoned the basic principles of simple economics here and is doomed to only add to the economic burden low income families bring. It’s nothing personal – just the harsh truth. We cannot afford the low income burden we already carry here – why on earth would we add to it???”
    .
    Well said. 22 N. 7th should be left vacant. Vacant it makes no money for the city yet at the same doesn’t cost the city. Allentown has low income well covered at this writing.

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