It's hard to know whether Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson is blocking a development because he cares about affordable housing or because he cares about keeping his job.
Johnson used councilmanic prerogative, an often-abused power, to block developer Ori Feibush's purchase of two derelict lots on a blighted block of South Cleveland Street in Point Breeze. Feibush had bid $51,900 for the parcels, with plans to turn them to productive use.
Johnson is hiding behind a still conceptual affordable-housing initiative proposed by Council President Darrell Clarke. His idea has the laudable goal of maintaining economic diversity in gentrifying neighborhoods, but too little of the comprehensive neighborhood planning needed to make it work.
Johnson's veto is particularly awkward given that Feibush has announced that he will run against the freshman councilman next year. Feibush has already fielded dozens of candidates to challenge the dysfunctional Democratic machine, which backs Johnson, for rank-and-file committee positions.
The unseemly appearance of politics at work here is bound to discourage productive development.
The councilman may well be sincere in his stated desire to make Point Breeze a stronger neighborhood for old and new residents alike. Council has buffered property tax hikes for longtime residents in an effort to prevent them from being priced out of rebounding neighborhoods like Point Breeze. But it will likely take more than that to protect them.
Because comprehensive neighborhood economic planning has not been in place in Point Breeze, however, and because Johnson's actions invite suspicions about his motives, he should back off and allow the Cleveland Street development. The best way for the councilman to keep his job is to push for policies that help Point Breeze realize its potential for everyone.