WHAT IF YOU didn't get the memo that it was time to leave?
What if you loved where you lived and thought the forces gathering around your city and your neighborhood weren't going to leave it an industrial ruin? What if you were in Kensington because that's where your family lived, and you wanted to be near them? Or you moved there because it was an affordable neighborhood close to transportation?
What if any one of those things were true and you found yourself in Kensington now?
It's OK to denigrate Kensington in the media or cowardly and anonymously online in almost any other forum. The region has agreed that it's a neighborhood that's richly earned its derision.
The coverage of the so-called Kensington Strangler has put a fresh spotlight on the area that for about 30 years has been allowed to decay. Much of the blame for this decline takes the perspective that somehow the people of Kensington are to blame for the barren blocks, empty factories and rampant crime that's festered to the point where only a serial murder can show up as more than a small blip on the bleak radar screen.
Sure, there are people in Kensington who commit crime and who contribute to trash-strewn blocks, but there are many who don't. I know some folks are laughing right now, but I'm sure they've never walked down Coral Street or Tioga or G Street. They don't think there are people in Kensington worth their respect.
THE people on those blocks who've kept up their properties when so many have fallen are the people the city and state have failed almost criminally - despite the untold millions spent on programs that never address the systemic problems facing the area. Without a doubt, those people who have ridden it out since the 1980s in Kensington have the worst deal in America.
Sure, they might've left, but they haven't, and for a variety of reasons, shouldn't have to. Instead, they pay about 4 percent in city wage taxes, 2 percent or so to the state, plus property tax and federal taxes.
The city actually has the audacity to collect property taxes from these people as if they get anything back. All of this tax money goes to entities that have let their blocks become havens for drug dealing, toxic dumping - a national example of urban decay.
Yet they stay and do their best amid this governmental robbery on a level unseen maybe in all of America, except perhaps the other parts of Philadelphia that we have allowed to rot.
That's why it's time for the state and our great city to right this long injustice to the people of Kensington. After being left to die for 30 years, the city should recognize that those who've stayed have been treated like dirt. While paying the same percentage of income as the richest residents of the city, they've seen so much less in services.
For this reason, City Council should create the first empowerment zone for ordinary residents, not just for businesses. Recognizing that they've been collecting taxes from Kenzos for so long with so little in return, it must reward the longstanding owner-occupiers in Kensington and those now putting money into the community by giving them a five-year tax-free payback.
It will work in both rewarding the people who have been stalwart in places like Hartville Street and those who might be able to bring the community back. For the last decade and a half, we've given property-tax breaks to people who build in the city. All agree it helped spur development in some areas. The tax abatement is prominently displayed on for-sale properties.
The Kenzo Tax Abatement would extend not only to property taxes but also to wage taxes. Residents of a clearly defined geographic area should pay nothing to the city in taxes for five years. That's right, nothing. In many ways, most have received nothing from their government for much longer.
Kensington, parts of which have been seeing a building boom in recent years, will not only get an influx of people who recognize that being in close proximity to the El in a neighborhood that has a lot of character is a good investment. And the long-time residents who've been there through it all get a little bit of recompense, too.
Kensington doesn't have the deep pockets of a Penn or Temple to filter tax dollars to would-be scholars and their families to induce them to rehab old homes.
It's going to take a little bit of effort and creativity to bring it back. That's why a creative tax abatement will work.
Those who have stayed and those who have recently used their sweat equity to make some blocks a little more occupied deserve that deal. It's time to experiment and reward those who've stuck it out.
The few, the proud, the Kenzos deserve better and have for too long.
A.J. Thomson fondly remembers his days as a Kensington Rambler. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.