By Nora Lichtash
and Thomas Earle
After years of declining population numbers, Philadelphia once again is emerging as a desirable place to live. Many areas of the city are seeing increased development and enhanced neighborhood revitalization efforts, a phenomenon otherwise known as gentrification. As a result, the changes that are occurring are quickly becoming the subject of a fiercely divisive debate over the future of our city.
On one side of the argument, people see gentrification as a much-needed sign of progress. For decades, neighborhoods suffered the consequences of a shrinking tax base. City services and public investments evaporated as resources became scarce and many long-term residents left for neighboring suburbs or other regions. With Philadelphia rebounding, developers and higher-income earners are thrilled to see the population rising and their property values skyrocketing.
But as property values rise, so too does the cost of living in gentrifying communities. Many long-term residents are now faced with a new challenge if they wish to remain in their neighborhoods: affordability.
Philadelphia remains among the nation's poorest major cities, home to a large population of disabled individuals, seniors, and working families with children struggling to pay their bills. As prices rise, these already vulnerable populations are at increased risk of being marginalized even further and, in many cases, displaced from their neighborhoods or even the city.
The emotion over this debate can quickly overshadow any middle ground. However, compromise is essential if we are to craft public policy to address this issue and build Philadelphia into a world-class city.
It is with this vision in mind that the Women's Community Revitalization Project and Liberty Resources have joined with the city's leading community, disability, faith, labor, and urban agriculture organizations to form the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities (PCAC). Together, we recently launched Development without Displacement, a campaign to expand and protect affordability in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.
The PCAC is not choosing a side in the gentrification debate. Rather, we believe that the two sides can and should coexist. We believe that public policy should encourage equitable community development, meaning plans that include people of all income levels in the future of our neighborhoods. With the right mix of affordable housing, job creation, and urban agriculture, we can help create diverse, healthy neighborhoods that ensure those who are committed to communities can afford to stay.
To further our vision, the PCAC will be calling for a package of bills aimed at expanding and protecting affordability in neighborhoods. Specifically, we will propose applying small fees to practices that are very profitable - such as a fee for flipping houses (selling a house less than a year after purchasing) and a $5 rental license application fee. In 2013, a 0.5 percent levy on flipped houses and a $5 rental license application would have generated nearly $2.4 million. Another idea is to use some portion of new real estate tax revenues from properties completing their 10-year abatement period. These new revenues would go into the city's Housing Trust Fund to support affordable housing.
If you believe that we must find the middle ground in the gentrification debate and support equitable community development, we encourage you to consider adding your voice to our coalition and supporting changes that ensure development without displacement.