Sandy Salzman, executive director of NKCDC, speaking at announcement of PACDC policy platform
With the mayoral race approaching, the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC) announced the release of a policy platform Wednesday on how to make development more equitable in rapidly changing neighborhoods. The platform, “Beyond Gentrification, Toward Equitable Development,” contains 19 recommendations in five subject areas. These range from expanding tax credit programs to a call for better data on displacement in gentrifying areas.
“This is a very unique moment in Philadelphia’s history. We’re now a growing city. We’re a strengthening city. We’re a city that is becoming more diverse and more vibrant,” said Beth McConnell, policy director at PACDC. “But all this attention can feel like it’s about a different city if you’re one of the many Philadelphians who cannot find a decent paying job, or if you’re not sure where your next meal is going to come from or how to keep the heat turned on.”
The view that Philadelphia’s recent revitalization has been unevenly distributed is common among community development corporations (CDC). Many have worked in low-income neighborhoods for decades, even as the city’s population declined, and are now seeking to help them benefit from the uptick in population and economic activity.
PACDC has 44 member organizations — several of which came to the announcement to help break down the platform, point by point, as well share a bit about the work they do and the problems they face in their communities.
Sandy Salzman, executive director of New Kensington CDC, which works primarily in Fishtown and Kensingon, focused on the problem of vacant lots. Through targeted redevelopment, she explained, the city can help residents rebuild their sense of pride in where they live.
“People really do care about where they live,” Salzman said. “The problem that people have is that they’re so overwhelmed they don’t know how to even begin.
The platform calls for a full commitment to the recently created Land Bank by the next mayoral administration, an expansion of Licences and Inspection to better monitor vacant property, and direct assistance to low-income homeowners to help them become code-compliant, rather than fining them.
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Other ideas recommended by the platform include:
- maintain a commitment to the City Planning Commission’s Citizen Planning Institute
- create a “Comprehensive Housing Strategy” to help homeowners stay in and improve their neighborhoods
- double dedicated revenue to Housing Trust Fund
- review the 10-Year Tax Abatement
- restore funding to CDC Tax Credit (read more here)
- provide $3 million in local funds towards mixed-use development on corridors
- boost investment commercial corridor cleaning, management and improvement to $4 million per year
- collect and analyze data to understand displacement
- increase enrollment in tax assistance programs
- give renters for notice on rent increases
Read the full platform here.
Gentrification and Displacement
As the title of the platform suggests, gentrification is a major concern for PACDC and its members around the city. The conventional wisdom is that gentrification leads to displacement by raising the property taxes of long-time homeowners and businesses past what they can afford. But there are differing views on how much displacement and gentrification — itself a debated term — are correlated.
There is also little hard data on displacement in Philadelphia, according to CDC leaders.
The platform makes a series of recommendations to get better data, including working with City Council to collect data from constituents who complain about displacement, working with local universities to gather ethnographic data on who is being displaced, and coordinating with housing counselors to determine when a foreclosure is caused by rising property taxes.
Salzman said that a statistically significant number of residents have come to New Kensington CDC concerned about being displaced. She added that she wants better data so that NKCDC can leverage more programs to keep people in their homes.
John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, said displacement is also happening in Chinatown though it can be hard to see.
“Seven years ago, a low-income couple could rent an apartment for maybe $400 to $500. Today that same apartment is $700. That’s a 40 percent increase,” he said.
PACDC will be working over the span of the mayoral election to get its platform into the hands of candidates. It is also seeking endorsements from regular Philadelphians.