Archives for February 20, 2013

Hillary Kwiatek Returns to the Ex-LVI Blog Comments Section With Good Points About Holy Family Manor

Hoisted from the comments:

As someone who both lives in the neighborhood and has a relative in one of the Holy Family Manor properties, I’m conflicted here.

On the one hand, I think it’s good to have assisted living and other retirement home options situated in a residential neighborhood. My father in law is able to be a part of our family’s life in a much bigger way than if he were in a high rise 20 miles away or by the hospital as my mother in law was.

On the other hand, HFM/The Diocese has not been a good steward of this particular part of its property. One has to be led to believe their neglect was intentional. I don’t think that’s cool at all. Their claim that they want to just keep the property as open space is really laughable. Why would they do that instead of just selling the parcel if they don’t intend to use it for something eventually (presumably they had thought they’d demolish the buildings and then wait a while for people to forget).

If HFM really has no alternative plans for the property, then they should just fix up the buildings minimally so they pass inspection, unload the parcel and pocket the proceeds. They could also just sell it as is, right? Or will they just continue to let the buildings rot, hope they haven’t attracted the attention of code enforcement, and wait for a new city council that might be more sympathetic? I guess their bluff is officially called.

The Winning Strategy for Willie Reynolds: Racking Up Bethlehem Counter-Establishment Endorsements

The Bob Donchez strategy in the Democratic primary for Bethlehem Mayor is going to be to create an air of inevitability around his candidacy. The best course of action for him is to line up as many capital-E Establishment players behind him as he can from the politics, business and philanthropy set. And since a big part of the endorsement game for the endorsers is about placing bets on who they think will win, not just who they want to win, Mr. Donchez is going to have an advantage attracting establishment support since the conventional wisdom is that he’s the frontrunner.

The task for Willie Reynolds then, is to turn the Establishment support into a liability for Mr. Donchez by locking down a bunch of endorsements from the counter-establishment. Andy Po’s endorsement is a good example. Andy represents a business that is respected by young people, and he has built up a lot of good will with the parents of skateboarders who patronize his store, and participate in the good clean fun events and activities he organizes. It matters that he is publicly supporting Willie for idealistic reasons.

Willie needs more endorsements from young business owners and go-getters. If he can earn the public support of people like Jaime Karpovich and the VegFest organizers, the young women business owners who run Eskandalo!, Loose Threads, Vegan Treats, Apotheca, Shuze, and other downtown shops, Chris Morales of Easy Weenies cart fame (maybe a cross-endorsement deal could be arranged for Chris’s City Council race?), and organizers with the Bethlehem Food Co-op, then he will be able to create a nice contrast. It will clarify that this is a race between an old-money coalition of establishment blue bloods, and an emerging coalition of young strivers, entrepreneurs, and idealists.

The Bethlehem electorate has proven responsive to this kind of pitch before, from Don Cunningham and John Callahan. People like young idealistic Mayors who affirm voters’ own optimism about their city and its future. But they need cues besides party labels in primaries, and endorsements fill that informational void. If Willie can show he has the support of New Bethlehem, he has a chance to overcome the inevitability strategy Bob Donchez will try to employ.

Hoisted From the Comments: More Context on Bethlehem Council Vote Against Mount Airy Demolition

Lynn Olanoff stops by to clarify what the vote was about:

Council’s vote was to not allow the home and barn’s demolition. If you own a property in one of the city’s certified historic districts (Historic, South Side or Mount Airy), you can’t tear down a structure or make modifications to it without the city’s OK. Council’s vote last night doesn’t put the city on the line for any of the renovations.

And Todd Dietrich adds some more context:

I was at the city council meeting last night and there was quite a lot of testimony that didn’t make it into the news article. As someone who doesn’t live in that neighborhood, here’s what I got out of what I heard at the meeting:

The city has laws to deal with vacant buildings with code enforcement issues. Apparently the city was not doing anything to cite the property owner for these issues over time.

The property owner doesn’t want the house, but they don’t want to sell it either, presumably to reuse the property. The same property owner also owns other historic/old buildings that they are letting fall into disrepair.

If city council would allow the demolition permit for this building, it would be setting a precedent that if a property owner buys a house they can just let it sit for a while so it will be “demolished by neglect” and then it will have to be allowed to be torn down, whereas it normally wouldn’t be had the property been maintained.

The neighbors in that area want it to remain a neighborhood, not a giant retirement complex, which is apparently what the property owner is seeking to do.

It’s an interesting point about the precedent that I hadn’t considered. The case for historic districts is supposed to be that when homeowners risk incurring fines for failing to keep up their properties’ historic facades, they’ll invest in keeping their properties looking pretty, or else sell to somebody else who’s interested in doing that. The incentive structure falls apart though if people never get fined, or the fines aren’t backed by some more drastic penalty like foreclosure. Then you could end up with a situation like this where somebody lets a property fall into such a state of disrepair that they “have to” demolish it.

I’m not a huge fan of Homeowner Association tyranny but in some places these kinds of groups have the legal status of quasi-governments who can collect their own taxes, issue fines, and foreclose on their neighbors if the fines aren’t paid. That sounds like pure hell to me personally, as a living arrangement, but it makes sense if you buy into the logic of historic districts. The idea is that these kinds of issues are indeed political, but the relevant constituency is the neighborhood not the city, and questions about who pays for what should be confined to actors within the neighborhood. In this case there’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether the property owner should have to pay for the restoration even though the property is so far gone at this point, or if the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association should have to buy the property and pay for the repairs from their membership base if they don’t want to see it demolished.

The Sequester is the Republicans’ Fault

Everybody’s going to hate it when the sequester cuts 700,000 jobs next week, so Republicans are, understandably, trying to win the blame game.

The problem for them is that it’s completely their fault.

Think back to why we have the sequester. The sequester cuts were supposed to kick in only if the Supercommittee negotiations failed.

Think back to why the Supercommittee negotiations failed. It failed because Republicans were negotiating in bad faith, with Pat Toomey trying to pretend a huge regressive tax cut was a deficit reduction plan.

Think back to why we did the Supercommittee. The Supercommittee was the price Republicans demanded in exchange for raising the statutory debt ceiling.

The fake debt ceiling crisis of 2011 was the origin of this whole thing. If Republicans hadn’t held the debt ceiling hostage for policy concessions for the first time ever (“Boehner Rule”) then there would be no sequester cuts coming next week.

It’s the Republicans’ fault.

Mount Airy Neighbors Should Pay For Historic Home Restoration, Not City Taxpayers

Here’s a good example of a situation where there’s no compelling citywide interest in preserving a building, but Bethlehem politicians lean toward preservation anyway. The backstory is that the Diocese of Allentown wants to demolish a 123-year old home in West Bethlehem because they don’t think the $230,000 in repairs it needs are worth it. But West Bethlehem neighbors don’t want it demolished, so City Council voted unanimously against the demolition. It’s not really clear to me what that vote committed them to do:

The Spring Street home was owned by the gardener of former Steel President Eugene Grace. Mount Airy Neighborhood Association President Mary Toulouse argued that homes of workers have an important place in historic districts just as slave quarters are maintained as part of historic plantations.

“It’s important we preserve the homes of the gardeners as well as the CEOs,” she said.

Several Mount Airy area residents said they felt the diocese failed to maintain the home to the point that it was a case of demolition by neglect, a practice disallowed in other cities. They said the city shouldn’t allow any homes in the small historic district to be knocked down.

“Why have a historic district if there’s no teeth?” Prospect Avenue resident Arnold Traupman asked.

The appropriate question to ask here is “important to whom?” I think it’s clear this is really only important to the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association. Southside Bethlehem families are not losing sleep over this. It’s not really an issue for anyone but the folks who live near it. I think that means that the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association needs to ask their members how much they personally are willing to shell out for the restoration. If they can come up with the $230,000 from within their own membership then they should go ahead with the repairs. If there’s not enough interest, then that’s that.

How the Sequester Will Hurt Housing Programs

CBPP reminds us that despite the media’s focus on the military cuts portion, there are a lot of other pointless cuts in the Republicans’ sequester. There is no reason to make any cuts like this. Congress needs to get rid of the sequester and replace it with nothing:

Our own analysis confirms that the cuts would have serious consequences on critical housing supports in every state.

  • Nationwide, more than 100,000 families could lose the Housing Choice Voucher assistance they need to rent decent housing at an affordable cost, placing many at risk of homelessness.  About half of these households are elderly or have disabilities, and most of the rest include children, according to program data.
  • Local communities would lose nearly $100 million in homeless assistance grants.  As a result, HUD estimates that 100,000 fewer people who have lost their homes will receive temporary or permanent housing assistance through its homeless assistance grants program, lengthening the time they will remain homeless.
  • Public housing, which provides affordable housing for 1.1 million households, most of which include seniors and people with disabilities with extremely low incomes, would lose $300 million.  This would force agencies to delay maintenance and repairs, causing living conditions in public housing to deteriorate and accelerating the loss of developments.   A lack of resources needed to maintain public housing already leads to a loss of about 10,000 units every year.

MacroAdvisers: GOP’s Sequester Cuts Will Cost 700,000 Jobs

Macroeconomic Advisers:

– Our baseline forecast, which shows GDP growth of 2.6% in 2013 and 3.3% in 2014, does not include the sequestration.

– The sequestration would reduce our forecast of growth during 2013 by 0.6 percentage point (to 2.0%) but then, assuming investors expect the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to delay raising the federal funds rate, boost growth by 0.1 percentage point (to 3.4%) in 2014.

– By the end of 2014, the sequestration would cost roughly 700,000 jobs (including reductions in armed forces), pushing the civilian unemployment rate up ¼ percentage point, to 7.4%. The higher unemployment would linger for several years.