Can Philly Afford its Fight Against Gentrification?

When city budgets are tight, how you define value is crucial.

Photo | Laura Kicey

Photo | Laura Kicey

One of the cruel things about gentrification is that it can be like wanting someone who doesn’t want you back. Those who face the impact of gentrification have an unrequited love with a neighborhood that changes right before their eyes, only to do tell them that things are different now.

It’s not you, it’s me.


The building uncertainty, insecurity, change and devastation involved in gentrification is like a real estate break up that leaves former partners, who once grew together, standing on opposite sides as the other moves on to become a bigger, better (and probably greener) pasture.

It’s happening all over, not only in New York and Philadelphia, but places like Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And as is the case with any breakup, the mourning party is left to get by with a little help from friends.

The New York Times reports that some cities, like Philadelphia, are reducing or freezing property taxes in overturned areas, to help ease the pain of seeing one’s neighborhood with someone new.

The tax breaks are easiest on cities where budgets are strong; they can afford to forgo the extra cash from property tax revenue. “A decision to reduce property taxes can be risky because such levies account for at least 50 percent of operating budgets in most American cities and sometimes provide as much as 80 percent of a city’s revenue,” the paper said. It’s an interesting choice for Philadelphia, which in the middle of funding troubles for the School District, has seen its first population increase since the 1950s.

“We feel the people who toughed it out should be rewarded,” said City Council president Darrell L. Clarke,  is quoted as saying in the Times piece, which also cites Council’s approved legislation to limit property tax increases for longtime residents. “We feel it is incumbent upon us to protect them.”

It also makes more sense; those with tenure also have investment. And while newcomers are most certainly welcomed, it’s nice to see that the city wants to take care of home, first. Like any relationship, real estate is about commitment, growth, and keeping things new, without losing one’s integrity.

Dance with the one who brung ya.

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  • EW

    “We feel the people who toughed it out should be rewarded”

    They “toughed” it out? Sure, they bought a house in a area of the city that wasn’t, at the time, particularly desirable. But they CHOSE to live there, and oh, also paid market price to do so (i.e. not a whole lot of money). Clarke is making it sound like they had some terrible hardship having to buy a house in the city before 2004… Its not as if these people are war heroes.

    “We feel it is incumbent upon us to protect them.”

    Long time owners in gentrifying areas need about as much “protection” as Donald Trump. These people have resided in areas of the city where real estate taxes were practically non-existent – where they were essentially being subsidized by the other home owners in the city that had to pay more than $100 a year in RE taxes. On top of that, they now own a property that is worth several times what they paid for it – this equity is also known as wealth. What do they need protection from?

    How about protecting the people doing the gentrifying?

  • DTurner

    I’m on the fence with this. On one hand, it’s good to provide some protections to older residents who are facing property tax spikes, but on the other hand, Philadelphia is not a wealthy city, and that money could be better used improving infrastructure, services, and lowering business taxes. It seems strange that City Council seems to believe that subsidizing the older households instead of bringing in employment is the bigger moral imperative here.

  • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

    Gentrification is like being raped without a condom. Give me a fin break.

  • rigth said fred

    “It’s happening all over, not only in New York and Philadelphia, but places like Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C”. How about that! All cities run by Democrooks! Coincidence? I think not!