ALLENTOWN, Pa. – One-third of Allentown residents within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) are living in poverty and some paying rents close to 75% of their monthly incomes.
These findings come despite more than $1 billion being spent in recent years on multiple downtown Allentown redevelopment projects.
During a presentation Wednesday afternoon before the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA), Don Bernhard said homeownership numbers are stagnant, even as property values downtown have risen within the last ten years and unemployment numbers decreased prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bernhard, the community development director for the Downtown Allentown Community Development Initiative (DACDI) and a former longtime Allentown city development director, said his report gleaned information from four notable sources, including Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies of Rentals.
He said downtown Allentown has not experienced gentrification within its neighborhoods, even though new, higher priced apartments have been built within the NIZ in the last several years.
He explained there is "scant evidence" that new downtown renters —holding bachelor's degrees that enable higher incomes to cover more expensive rents — are pushing long-time residents out of their homes.
"The healthiest of neighborhoods are mixed-income neighborhoods," said Bernhard.
He also pointed out studies completed in 2018 that stated the median household income for downtown residents rose from $14,000 annually in 2010 to $22,700 in 2018.
He was somewhat surprised to report that Lehigh County residents spend an average of 52% of their monthly incomes on rent, whereas the industry recommended percentage is one-third of a family's monthly income.
ANIZDA Chairman Sy Traub said that while the new downtown apartments attract those with bachelor's degrees, gentrification of neighborhoods is not a downside of redevelopment efforts. He said that in the long term, it could lead to more educational opportunities and better jobs.
Board member Adrian Shanker questioned, "Are people from families who perhaps have lived in downtown Allentown for generations being pushed out because they don't have college degrees?"
Bernhard pointed out, as per research from State Sen. Pat Browne, Center City Allentown's average residential property values rose from $74,550 in 2010 to $110,900 in 2020, compared to citywide prices of $129,000 in 2010 to $144,000 in 2020.