The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley was a leading force with an advocacy campaign to gain broad community support for passage of a local ordinance for licensing of rental apartments.
The mission of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) is to improve the quality of life by building a community in which all people have access to economic opportunity, the ability to pursue that opportunity, and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. A Values Statement has been developed as a framework for CACLV’s overall approach. The Values Statement encompasses the agency’s multi-faceted role as:
- An advocate
- A community development organization
- A human services agency
- A non-profit corporation
- An employer
CACLV provided leadership with a successful local campaign for passage of a voter initiative providing for the licensing and inspection of residential rental units. This effort was aimed at slum landlords whose lack of responsible ownership fosters neighborhood deterioration. Provisions were incorporated by the City of Allentown under an Ordinance for Licensing Residential Rental Units to establish rights and obligations of owners and occupants to maintain and improve the quality of rental housing within the community.
The first level of effort was to have the ordinance considered by City Council based on a petition signed by more than the required number of 2,000 voters. However, City Council did not approve the measure.
“Neighbors for Rental Inspections” was then formed as a community coalition to promote passage of the ordinance through a voter referendum. A public awareness campaign was launched including:
Tour of slum properties
Interviews with tenants and their children with no alternatives other than renting slum properties
Press conference at a slum property location
The theme of the campaign was to:
“STOP THE SLUMLORDS AND DISRUPTIVE TENANTS WHO ARE DESTROYING OUR NEIGHBORHOODS!”
Selling points included:
Improve poor housing conditions
Reverse declining property values
Curtail overcrowding and illegal conversions
Reduce drug dealing and crime
Prevent litter and noise and protect our quality of life
The following measures were promoted through the ordinance:
A $10 annual fee (more for problem properties)
Regular inspections (once every five years)
Penalties for persistent and serious code violations
Required evictions of chronically disruptive tenants
Water and sewer bills must be paid
The referendum passed by more than a 5 to 1 margin on May 18, 1999. The vote was 6.169 (84%) in favor and 1,159 (16%) against. Monies collected under provisions of the ordinance help support expanded staffing for inspections.
Two additional related strategies have been undertaken since the ordinance was established:
- Encouraging the city to prohibit the sale of tax properties to persons with rental properties that are not licensed.
- Developing agreements with banks to increase scrutiny of financing for investors with a poor history of maintaining and operating rental properties. Information is required with loan applications on failure to maintain apartment licenses for multi-family properties. Loans are approved only under extraordinary circumstances. Failure to provide accurate and truthful information is used as grounds for default of loans.
Apartment inspections are now required to ensure minimum housing quality standards. Additionally, 19 out of 21 banks have signed the agreement to have compliance with apartment licensing as part of reviewing loan applications.
Alan Jennings, Executive Director