Over the weekend, The Morning Call reported that Community Action had offered a proposal to ensure that the benefits of $500 million in new development resulting from the Neighborhood Improvement Zone had a lasting impact on the downtown, its neighborhoods and the residents who live there. The proposal is printed in its entirety, below.
Matt Assad’s article was well done. However, as usual, some of the people in the region who couldn’t find a good word to say about anything, especially our city or my agency or especially me, had the usual mean-spirited comments to post (anonymously, of course) on both the paper’s website and one of the blogs. Cowards, all, or liars in many cases, sometimes I wonder if decent folks are swayed by the lies and accusations.
So, here are a few points I want to make about the proposal in response to some of them:
First, from the day I learned about the size, scope and potential of the NIZ we started working on a proposal. When I was appointed to the Board of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, Mayor Ed Pawlowski knew that my appointment would result in this kind of effort. This proposal, then, was not a slap-dash effort to undermine Congregations United for Neighborhood Action.
When I learned that CUNA was going to pursue a “community benefits agreement” I sought a meeting with them, through the Lehigh County Conference of Churches. Their new director, Joshua Chishold, had approached me when he came to the area to take the job because he had heard we would be kindred spirits – and we are. So, it made sense to me that I should approach him to discuss this project.
I was hopeful that we could work together. When they pursued their negotiations they excluded Community Action, then publicly declared that I had some kind of conflict. I then went ahead and released the document without their input. However, I remain interested in working together. Indeed, we have a meeting scheduled next week.
Second, the proposal, as the reader will see, is only a framework for a plan. It has room for details, new ideas, and specifics on how to implement it. Nobody is excluded; there is room for plenty of stakeholders to work together to make it happen. This is the way Community Action has pursued many, many problem-solving efforts throughout our history.
Third, the $500,000 we believe can be generated annually to implement the plan exacts no blood from any specific stone, including the developers. It assumes we’ll pursue resources wherever they can be found.
Fourth, we have already begun to pursue those resources, some of which will most certainly go to do things our agency doesn’t do, like operate a central employment office for jobs in the NIZ. Community Action has a long history of developing projects and generating the resources to fund them. And we often do that, even when those projects are not run by our agency. We have a record of building the capacity of the region to solve problems, bringing many to the table and sharing the resources we develop. We can point to more than $700 million in such capacity, from deals with banks when they merge, to the Green Future Fund, to our appeal to the suburbs for funding support for the urban shelters, to sharing our funding from the Obama stimulus.
Finally, Community Action’s work is community-based: its Board of Directors includes individuals representing low-income people and their neighborhoods; the bylaws of our community development subsidiaries in downtown Allentown and south Bethlehem require that at least half of the members of their boards of directors live in the neighborhoods they serve.
So, responsible comments, including complaints and criticism are welcome here. But personal attacks, character assassination, and racist comments are not. We won’t remove them, but count on a response that is intolerant, fighting fire with fire.