Latest Anti Gentrification Rallying Cry? Tax the Flippers

Fear of gentrification is one of the most potent political forces in Philadelphia today. That much, most can agree on. But is that fear broadly valid, or generally misplaced? That’s a harder question, and you’ll hear a lot of different answers to it. And, it seems, some very different policy ideas about how to manage housing in a city that is growing again (a little, at least).

A lot of the anti-gentrification forces have coalesced into a group called Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities, which includes a host of politically potent labor and neighborhood organizations. In recent months, they’ve begun pressuring Council to enact a simply huge “anti-speculation tax” that would only apply to properties that are sold twice within two years. They’re going after house flippers and some market-rate new construction, basically. Read more »

The Brief: Airlines to Spend Up to $2 Billion More on PHL Improvements

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

1. A new lease agreement between airlines and the City of Philadelphia secures an additional $1.3-$2.1 billion in new airline spending at the airport and a $12 minimum for all PHL employees.

The gist: It took two years, but the city and the airlines operating out of Philadelphia International Airport have a new deal. It’ll last between five and seven years. Mayor Nutter signed off on it yesterday. The total overall value of the deal comes to $2.8 billion – $4 billion (depending on how long it runs), which includes as much as $2.1 billion in payments above and beyond the last deal, Wendy Ruderman reports for the Daily News.

By law, all that extra cash must be spent at the airport itself (sorry, schools). About $158 million is set aside for capital improvements at the airport, and as much as $750 million more could be spent on a single as-yet unannounced mega project. The rest will help the airlines “modernize operations,” though it’s not clear from the coverage what that means, exactly.

The big political stumbling block that was cleared in this deal is the requirement of a new $12 minimum wage for all airport employees, including those who work for the airlines through subcontractors. Securing that was a priority for City Council, which refused to sign off on an agreement that didn’t include that provision. Read more »

Candidates Love a Camera

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney with state reps Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, May 2, 2015.

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney with state reps Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, May 2, 2015.

July’s Philadelphia magazine is The Selfie Issue. Whether you check it out online, or pick up a glossy copy, you’ll be treated to dozens of self-portraits of beautiful, interesting Philadelphians … and a bunch of politicians.

Citified being what it is, we’re here to focus on the latter. Apologies.

But wait, before you go, take a moment to check out Darrell Clarke on the race track (seriously), Sam Katz getting a little handsy with the Pope, Vince Fumo making the absolute most of this image rehab opportunity, and more.

Oh, and if there’s a pol you think should be included who’s not, odds are good we asked them to participate and they declined (it took Mayor Nutter’s press office an impressive four minutes to reject our invitation).

First up, this classic American couple. Read more »

The Brief: The Return of Local Gun Control

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Photo: Shutterstock.com

1. Now that the Commonwealth Court has overturned a controversial law making local gun control efforts harder to enact, will cities and towns get back into the gun control game?

The gist: Last week, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled that Act 192 — a state law that made it far easier for the National Rifle Association to challenge local gun control ordinances — is unconstitutional. It was a a rare victory for gun control advocates in Pennsylvania. After Act 192 was adopted by the legislature in 2014, dozens of local municipalities repealed their gun control ordinances, rather than risk getting sued by the NRA, and getting stuck with big legal bills. If the Commonwealth Court’s ruling stands, the old status quo would return. At Newsworks, Bill Hangley explores what the impact of the ruling is likely to be: Read more »

Darrell Clarke Moves to Quash Big Tax Reform Plan

Darrell Clarke is not impressed. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Darrell Clarke is not impressed. Photo | Jeff Fusco

City Council President Darrell Clarke has forcefully come out against the ambitious plan spearheaded by Paul Levy and Jerry Sweeney to overhaul the city’s tax structure in a way they say will promote economic development and job growth.

This is a big deal. Tax reform — which is usually shorthand for lowering Philadelphia’s extremely high tax rates on wages and businesses — has been hotly debated in the city for decades. Proponents see it as the single best answer to Philadelphia’s anemic job growth. Opponents question the assumption that lower taxes would generate jobs, and they worry that it would starve city government of badly needed revenue.

But this tax reform plan, which is backed by an unusually broad mix of business and labor interests called the Growth Coalition, is a bit different that earlier proposals. It would slash wage and business taxes, yes, but the coalition proposes to pay for those tax cuts by increasing real estate taxes on commercial properties by 15 percent.

And the coalition is selling the package as a net revenue winner for the city, which is a large part of the reason why this plan has some real momentum (most of the mayoral field embraced the rough outlines of the plan, for instance).

But Clarke clearly isn’t buying it. He’s naturally suspicious of sweeping plans that purport to solve big problems at little-to-no cost (excepting those he hatches himself, naturally enough). Look at his position on the sale of PGW, or his doubts about the Land Bank. Read more »

Is It a Crime Wave?

Violent crime is a staple of urban news coverage. It never really goes away, particularly on local television news. But public focus on and news coverage of violent crime does ebb and flow a bit. And until very recently, I think it’s fair to say that violent crime has been out of the spotlight in Philadelphia for quite some time.

Criminal justice, and questions about police and community relations, played a central role in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary. But crime itself was a tertiary issue in the campaign; a stark reversal from 2007, the last competitive mayoral election, when the city seemed gripped by fear of violent crime and the election focused on the question in depth. This is a crude metric, but I counted 183 front page Inquirer stories in 2007 that included the words “police” and “homicide” or “murder.” Last year, only 111 front page Inky stories included that combination of words.

But in recent days, after two brazen shootings left 17 people injured by shotgun blasts, Philadelphia crime and violence is back in the news in a big way. So what’s going on? Is violent crime on the rise in Philadelphia? Or are these just a couple of headline-generating anomalies?

We’ve got a close look at the numbers below. But in summary: while crime remains a very serious problem in Philadelphia, 2015 is shaping up as no worse and perhaps slightly better than 2014, which was itself one of the safest years on record in the city’s recent history. And the recent spike in shootings mostly looks like the latest manifestation of a tragic summer tradition in Philadelphia. Read more »

The Brief: This Is Why Your Artisanal Cocktail Costs $13

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

1. The cost of liquor licenses in Philadelphia is skyrocketing.

The gist: Michael Klein reports for Philly.com that the price of a liquor license in Philadelphia is up to about $120,000, or about 40 percent higher than the going rate just two years ago. Klein attributes that to the city’s restaurant boom, and the artificially tight supply of liquor licenses. Writes Klein:

Many restaurateurs consider a liquor license to be essential, as alcohol sales are far more profitable than food. Liquor licenses are governed by the state Liquor Control Board but are sold by restaurateurs on the open market through lawyers or brokers, and that’s where basic economics comes in.

There are simply no licenses available, according to three local lawyers who specialize in liquor licenses.

Read more »

Twee West Philly Restaurant Fences In Big Chunk of Public Sidewalk

The "barrier" surrounding the William Street Common sidewalk cafe at 39th and Chestnut in University City. | All photos by Patrick Kerkstra.

The “barrier” surrounding the William Street Common sidewalk cafe at 39th and Chestnut in University City. | Most photos by Patrick Kerkstra.

Some quiet chatter on social media Tuesday alerted Citified to a long, tall fence surrounding the sidewalk cafe of the new William Street Common bar and restaurant at 39th and Chestnut streets in West Philadelphia. The establishment, which opened in February, is owned by power restaurateur Avram Hornik (Morgan’s Pier, Union Transfer, Boot & Saddle and more), and it features cocktails in mason jars, a hyped no-tipping policy, and, if I remember right, mismatched, self-serve tableware. All of it is a bit twee for West Philly, but it’s a nice place nonetheless.

But just look at that monster fence! It’s attractive, as far as fences go, but it’s jarring to see such a big swath of public sidewalk cordoned off for what is so clearly a private use. Most outdoor cafes commandeer public space to one degree or another, of course. But somehow it feels very different when passersby get to gaze at the leisurely patrons and their food, and vice versa. Sidewalk cafes are supposed to feel like a part of the streetscape. They’re supposed to blend private space with public space.

There’s no blending with this fence. Just taking. And it’s not at all clear that this cafe, as constructed, is permitted by city law.

Read more »

The Brief: Mayor Darrell Clarke Launches Big, Bold Affordable Housing Plan

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh.)

Mayor City Council President Darrell Clarke launches 2,000 unit affordable housing plan.

The gist: Last year, City Council announced an ambitious plan to build 2,000 units of affordable housing in (largely gentrifying) neighborhoods across the city. Yesterday, Council and Clarke celebrated the imminent ground breaking on 32 of those units in Francisville.

The plan is an interesting one. Unlike a lot of affordable housing, this initiative is targeted squarely at working class and middle class residents earning 80 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income. As Newsworks reported: Read more »

Should the Parking Authority Have the Power to Ticket … Everything?

Should the Philadelphia Parking Authority be put on the case?

Should the Philadelphia Parking Authority be put on the case?

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney wants the Philadelphia Parking Authority to turn its hyper-vigilant gaze on construction sites, littering, illegally closed sidewalks and possibly an array of other commonplace city code violations, reports Ryan Briggs for Philly.com’s Next Mayor project. Writes Briggs:

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney says, if elected, he wants the Philadelphia Parking Authority to issue even more tickets — in addition to the parking variety for which the army of meter readers are already notorious.

He would like to see the PPA issuing tickets for things like litter and sidewalk violations on behalf of the Streets Department or checking construction and dumpster permits for the Department of Licenses & Inspections.

“We need to extend the ability to other departments…to issue tickets. I would like to do that with the Parking Authority,” he said. “We have people, city employees, out in the neighborhoods. They shouldn’t be working in silos, they shouldn’t be cross purpose to each other — and help each other do their jobs.”

It’s an absolutely fascinating idea. What’s more, it’s an early insight into the way a Mayor Jim Kenney might operate. Read more »

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