Lehigh Valley

Progress and setback show after three years of Allentown's NIZ

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - There's biz in the NIZ, but other than a changing skyline, what does the city of Allentown have to show for the special taxing district-- known as the neighborhood improvement zone-- in communities in and around it?

"Our neighborhoods need to be successful with the economic growth happening in our downtown, and our downtown cannot be successful without the economic activity that's happening here within our neighborhoods," said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. 

A three-year report by Upside Allentown reveals both progress and setback. Serious crime rates are down 20 percent in Center City since 2013, which extends beyond the NIZ.

Property values rose by about 20 percent from about $50,000 to $62,000. While prices are up, home ownership is down and time has done little for residents' wallets.

"Poverty statistics, we haven't moved the needle very much. Poverty is still way too high. Income levels have bumped up just a little bit," said Donald Bernhard of the Upside Allentown Steering Committee.

The report shows poverty increased by more than 3 percent, while wages did slightly improve.

"There's still more work to be done there, no question about it," Bernhard said.

Another challenge includes improving one the state's most struggling school districts.

"People want to see the Allentown schools improve," Bernhard said.

To make headway there, the foundation funded community sessions for district improvement and funded summer programs to boost student achievement.

Upside Allentown, which has been funded for six years, still has three more years to go. Future priorities include hiring a homeownership advocate and implementing an arts and culture plan


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