Thursday, October 23, 2008

Equitable Gentrification

I was hoping the Inquirer would print my response (below) to an article published on October 15th about the Centennial District in West Philadelphia. However, it does not look like they are going to do so. The article I am responding to is here. Enjoy...

To the Editor:

In the Inquirer’s article about the Centennial District in West Philadelphia, Stephan Salisbury writes, “But while residents say they strongly support the district, there is concern that longtime and low-income residents might be squeezed out by gentrification” (“Envisioning a Centennial District in western Fairmount Park” 10/15/2008).

Having worked in Parkside, been a member of the Centennial District Steering Committee, and managed studies and grants that impact the Centennial District, I am very familiar with Parkside – its potential and problems. The potential is extremely exciting. However, the threat of displacement through gentrification is very real. Parkside is becoming a hot area, with plenty of real-estate speculators hedging their bets that this neighborhood will take off.

Parkside has a high vacancy rate and a relatively strong homeownership rate. There is room for plenty of new residents and businesses to move in, without displacement – that is, if existing homeowners, renters, and business owners can afford to stay. Although a number of stakeholders have vowed major displacement will not happen, I see no reason why the trend that has occurred in so many hot neighborhoods will not happen in Parkside.

However, we can buck the trend. The City – the Mayor’s Office, Commerce Department, and City Council – need to act now to adopt new policies that enable “equitable gentrification” – revitalization with minimal displacement of existing residents, allowing the people of the community to enjoy the fruits of their neighborhood’s renewal.

For years I have advocated for the City to adopt these kinds of policies, including increased thresholds for the senior tax freeze program; a property tax deferment program for low-income households; transition counseling for residents and business owners; affordable housing set asides (i.e., inclusionary zoning); incentives for mixed-income, senior, and rental housing development; and a greater nexus between existing programs and the homeowners and business owners who need them.

Without these City programs, targeted at enabling equitable gentrification, Parkside will improve and thrive, but the people who live there will not be able to afford to stay. If that occurs, the success of the Centennial District will be a hollow victory, indeed.

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