Allan Domb Plans to Get the Job Done

Allan Domb

By Jan L. Apple

Allan Domb is not afraid of hard work. It’s in his DNA. “My parents both worked 12 to 15 hours a day,” said the Philadelphia councilman at-large who assumed his new post in January. “They had an embroidery business in West New York, New Jersey until the late ’90s. It was my grandfather’s factory.”

So why, one might ask, would the man, known as the city’s real estate “Condo King,” run for political office? Domb is crystal clear about his motives. “I love the city of Philadelphia,” he said during a recent interview inside his third-floor City Hall office. “I want to do the right thing, not just for today but for the next 10 or 20 years.”

Pointing to the neat stacks of papers on his desk, each representing an essential matter he intends to tackle – delinquent taxes, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), how to increase graduation rates, technology and jobs – Domb is all about cutting through the red tape to reinvigorate the City of Brotherly Love.

“I don’t view myself as a politician,” he said. “My decisions are not based upon whether I’ll be re-elected, but about doing what is best for Philadelphia.”

Success, it seems, has followed with every business endeavor Domb has taken on since moving to the city over 39 years ago. Why should his governmental position be any different?

“I came here making $14,000 a year,” said Domb. In 1980, he founded a real estate brokerage firm specializing in the sale of luxury high-rise condominiums. The nationally renowned Allan Domb Real Estate has literally altered the city’s landscape. Not only is Domb responsible for innovations in integrating the real estate, construction and restaurant industries, he made his mark renovating historic buildings and developing upscale properties that breathe new life into the region. His name has become synonymous with Philadelphia real estate and his projects are a stellar example of all that is possible.

Domb has learned a lot over the years and has no bones about putting his business acumen into action. “In 1990, I was president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of REALTORS® (GPAR),” said Domb. “At the time, I was the youngest president to serve.”

In 2011, he was asked again to take the reins. He accepted the challenge for three consecutive years – 2013 to 2015. “That was unusual,” he said. “Most presidents serve for one year.”

During his tenure, the association broadened its mission beyond real estate to become “The Voice of Philadelphia.”

“In 2013, GPAR played an integral role in tax lien sale legislation,” explained Domb.

“It focused on the $500 million of real estate tax delinquencies.”

“I came to realize how important the health of our city is,” Domb continued, “not just from the standpoint of real estate but from the standpoint of business, lifestyle, and one’s whole being. Without a good, healthy city you have nothing. My grandmother used to say ‘good health is like money in the bank.’” Domb adheres to these pearls of wisdom.

Some immediate goals in his new role include collecting and writing off delinquent taxes, bringing more people to the city to broaden the tax base and spreading the word about the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

“We have about $1.8 billion in unpaid or delinquent taxes on the books,” he said. “In reality, it’s more like $600 to $700 million we need to either collect or permanently write off the books. We need to be more aggressive and hopefully adopt the same system as New York City. In 1995, their collection rate was 88 percent; today it’s 98.5. Ours is about 90 percent.”

Last year, Domb says, Philadelphia left $100 million federal dollars on the table; EITC refunds that residents could’ve received had they known they were eligible and applied. Philadelphia’s population is 1.560 million, explains Domb, with 400,000 in poverty and 186,000 in deep poverty, living on less than $1,000 a month. “The EITC can supplement the income of the working poor by $5,000 to $6,000. We can help 40,000 people who failed to apply. And they can file back for three years of credits.”

Domb is keenly in tune with millennials, a population that holds the key to Philadelphia’s future and its technology. He attributes the phenomenal growth of the city over the last eight years to this generation. “They’ll stay in the city if we can fix the schools and provide good jobs,” said Domb, who intends to roll up his sleeves and make it happen.

“We had manufacturing 40-50 years ago,” he continued. “We’re not going to bring that back. Our new manufacturing is tech. It’s very important to focus on technology jobs; we have 14,000 tech jobs. They’re the highest job multiplier in any field. For every job in tech, you create five more jobs. That’s huge.”

Domb is equally impassioned over the nationwide college debt saddling millennials. “It is preventing young people from buying homes.”

He underscores that in 2014, 48 percent of college graduates were in jobs that don’t require a college degree. “Yet, in 2005, college debt was $356 billion; today, it’s $1.3 trillion.”

Domb, who is donating his councilman’s salary to the School District of Philadelphia, undeniably, came from modest means and built his own success story. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, his family lived in a fourroom apartment in Fort Lee. “We were actually evicted,” recalled Domb. “They turned off the hot water and heat on a Jewish holiday and my mother complained about it.”

When he was in sixth grade, his parents purchased a home in Englewood Cliffs. As a teen, Domb had two newspaper routes, delivering The Bergen Record in Englewood Cliffs and the Hudson Dispatch in Fort Lee.

“My parents taught me to be very humble,” said Domb, who intends – without a shadow of a doubt – to make his adopted city a better place. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to take best practices that are used in markets similar to Philadelphia and apply them here.”