By Cydney Wilson
William Allen High School, once known as Allentown High School, has changed drastically over the past few decades. It has become increasingly diverse and less financially capable, leading to a lack of resources and low graduation rates. This can largely be attributed to the practice of redlining.
According to the Fair Housing Act, redlining is the act of denying someone a loan based on oftentimes discriminatory factors—such as race or ethnicity—when the applicant is eligible for a loan. Redlining is most commonly affiliated with mortgage lending practices.
“A large part of the ASD and different school district funding is property taxes,” explains James Wynne, a 2019 graduate of William Allen High School and current Muhlenberg student. “If you look at the school district boundaries, other districts in the county, they’re squares, they’re rectangles. At ASD, it looks like something you’d see in biology class. It’s ridiculous. And most of that are dilapidated communities with houses and buildings with low property value. And so if you just think about it mathematically, lower quality housing, you’re going to have lower property taxes.”
According to Wilberto Sicard’s research, there is a 69.1% graduation rate from William Allen and a 49.2% post-secondary education rate, while Parkland has a 95.4% graduation rate and an 81.9% post-secondary rate.
Wynne also shared his experience of the ways in which the gentrification of downtown Allentown has led to redlining.
“There are new businesses like [tax company] ADP [Automatic Data Processing]… They have a building downtown and there’s been this surge of apartments, very upscale apartment complexes that house all these people who are working in these new businesses and corporations that are finding homes in downtown Allentown… The community that I was a part of is sort of becoming smaller and smaller culturally and physically.”
Greetings Cydney. I grew up in Allentown – attended Wm Allen High School 1965-1968. I grew up 2 blocks from Muhlenberg College. I’ve read Wiberto Sicard’s paper, and found it interesting, and generally very accurate, however, several things are unclear, or at least can be misleading or really just need additional comments. I wish I could have found an easy link to address this to Wiberto Sicard, but yours was the first article I found discussing his findings, where I could easily reply. If you can forward my thoughts to him, that would be great. I think the “other Allentown high school” mentioned below, and my points about geographic boundary limits are an important part of his Allentown story.
My parents bought a new home in Allentown in 1957 ($23K), a nice new 1600 sq ft split level near 24rd and Tilghman (Tilghman a major street) . The interesting thing about going to high school then, was that Wm Allen HS did not serve the minority community. Small as the minority population in Allentown was (less than 1000), if I recall correctly, most Blacks back then attended Dieruff HS. It was the “poor high school” at the time, which shows you how things change over half a century plus. I did not recall seeing that high school mentioned in his paper. More info on the different high schools back then, would have been beneficial.
But the thing I find lacking in his article is some of the “why” that Parkland does so much better. It’s not an “Allentown” thing. It could be considered a “State” thing. Even as I was growing up, there was a lot of concern that Allentown had very little room to grow to the west. (To the east with a long common border, is Bethlehem) – no help there.
Back then, and by the early-60s, Allentown proper’s western suburbs were virtually completely built out. I think Allentown wanted to “seize more land” from the area now that contains Parkland HS (which was new at the time, if I recall), but was unsuccessful. Had they been successful the outcomes discussed would have been very different.
This was a case, as with many larger cities, that the city could not expand to include its new suburbs. And, as tends to be the case, the newest suburbs get the newest homes and higher income level families. No surprise there.
Had Allentown been able to grow to include its major suburb (far larger in population than the suburban Allentown proper area from 22nd street to Cedar Crest Blvd (less than 2 miles and the border with Parkland), then the tax base for the two schools would have been the same, and things should have proved very different. And that, I find most Interesting. “What if?”
Back in the 1960’s Allentown was still a fast growing metro area (and multi-time All-America city for that matter). But the city itself had stopped growing and wouldn’t really grow again for another 30+ years.
The thing is, because So Whitehall Township (Parkland) was not part of the city, and had the massive suburban growth, in part explains why the Allentown metro area grew from 227,000 to 364,000 (1950 – 1970) while the City of Allentown, with virtually no room to expand, only grew by about 2,000 people during the same timeframe. With the money moving to the suburbs…less taxes for Allentown, and its schools.
This wasn’t so much a flight to the suburbs (although suburbs were what was being built), but more of rapid growth of the geographic area, and Allentown suffering (tax base if nothing else), because it could not annex more land for its growth.
None of that has anything to do with the redlining, and other key points he makes, and I disagree with none of that, but it certainly helps explain that things like funding of Wm Allen HS at lower levels vs Parkland, is not due to “Allentown’s” doings, or racism in more recent times, but is simply typical of what happens when suburbs are not part of their “city.” LA, and also Atlanta, I believe are two cities where much of their suburbs are part of the city tax base and education system. Allentown, once, a proud and relatively wealthy town (a huge textile area), fell on hard times as their textile mills closed due to competition from the South, and then Mexico and Asia. Downtown was once a thriving retail area, that later when I visited in the late 1980s seemed to consist of mostly boarded up stores and closed department stores. Yes the downtown is being revitalized, and that ALWAYS pushes poorer families out, regardless of race, religion, etc., whether Allentown, Brooklyn, LA, Atlanta, and Philly (I recall in Philly, the South Street area (of music fame) gentrifying, which seriously disrupted the older, poorer neighborhood it once was). On the bright side, for the poor (in general) and minorities that did own in the South Street area, did exceptionally well once the gentrification was going full steam. The previously depressed prices for being a poor area/heavy minority area, surged. Those lucky enough to own should have done very well, if willing to sell. The renters – a whole different story, unfortunately.
Thanks for “listening” I hope my comments complement yours. -art