While many people believe gentrification is good for neighborhoods, property values, and crime, there are plenty of negative effects to explore. We define gentrification as “the restoration of run-down urban areas by the middle class (resulting in the displacement of low-income residents).” In Philadelphia, Point Breeze and Northern Liberties are two of the fastest gentrifying zip codes in not only the city but the U.S.
To understand how we got here, revisit our previous blog, “A Brief History of Redlining in Philadelphia.” Historically, redlining, real estate developers taking advantage of white flight, and racially biased lending created swaths of segregated neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Today, Philadelphia is the fourth most segregated city in the country.
Low-income renters are the people most susceptible to gentrification, which disproportionately affects minorities because of systematic oppression and racist policies. If these renters were homeowners, gentrification would have a much different effect, leading them to gain wealth as their home values appreciated.
So how can community members, developers, and lawmakers protect those most vulnerable to the loss of affordable housing?
One way to combat gentrification is to slow it down. Lengthening the process allows community members to voice their concerns and implement changes before it is too late to protect their interests. Evidence shows that when communities work together, change is possible.
Another effective tool for communities is cultivating homegrown and local developers who want to see communities succeed. Community members know what is necessary to uplift their neighborhoods and what isn’t. PAF wants to see these local entrepreneurs, developers, and builders find the funds and education they need, which is why we created a portal to help them succeed.
A huge part of the battle against gentrification is the contribution of lawmakers. We’ve seen how detrimental programs like the 10-year Property Tax Abatement have been to neighborhoods. New homeowners enjoy tax relief while existing property owners see their taxes rise, while the local treasury has less revenue needed for crucial public services. Public services directly help people facing housing instability and homelessness, so this is a significant problem.
On the flip side, requiring developers to create affordable housing units and developing mortgage assistance programs have been valuable additions. PAF understands the importance of affordable housing, which is why we require developers to use our funds to build units that are reasonable for a variety of homeowners. At the end of the day, policymakers should aim to construct laws that prevent inequality and also compensate for the past missteps.
In the past, gentrification has caused low-income Philadelphians to be pushed out of their neighborhoods, fueling housing segregation, and acting as a barrier to generational wealth. The future does not need to continue on this bleak path. With a combination of community efforts, local developers, and policymaking shifts, Philadelphia can see a positive change for those who need it most.