As plans to establish a special services district — much like the one in University City — move forward near Temple University in North Philadelphia, one long-time community activist is pressing to make sure residents share in its oversight.
“I’d like to see some neighborhood people involved in that special service district,” said the Rev. William Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church. “Not just people that put up big money.”
Under a proposal now in front of city Council, the city would create a special services district in the neighborhoods surrounding Temple, providing residents extra security and cleanup services.
It would be funded through an added property tax assessment, a percentage of the value of the property, assessed only on student rental properties.
Plans for the district include an area that extends roughly on the west side of Broad Street from 19th Street in the west to York Street on the north and Girard Avenue on the south. East of Broad Street it would run to 10th Street, north of Susquehanna Avenue to Lehigh. Within that area, the Yorktown section, already governed by a special controls district, Temple University’s campus and the properties on North Broad Street would be exempted.
Councilman Darrell Clarke, who introduced the legislation last month, said a growing conflict between residents and students made the new district necessary.
“We’ve had significant issues with the amount of student housing that’s been built up in that area without any planning or structure whatsoever,” he said. “It’s popping up in the middle of residential blocks. There have been a number of incidents between residents and students. It’s just been an ongoing problem for several years.”
Similar conflicts, mostly over noise, garbage and parking, led to more stringent rental rules in Yorktown. Student housing there is now limited to owner-occupied homes. That rule has been challenged in court. The city won the first round, but the case is under appeal. A similar, expanded measure, including the area that is now part of Clarke’s proposed special services district, is also being considered by Council.
Moore supports the special services district — as long as it helps strengthen the community.
“It ought to be a cooperative venture,” he said.
Clarke acknowledged Moore’s concerns, noting that the details of the board makeup have not yet been fleshed out.
“There is some concern by the residents, who are concerned that they will have minimal or no input,” he said. “Then on the other side, you have property owners whose position is that we are paying for the extra support, so we should have significant members of the board.”
He promised that the board would be made up of a diverse group of people, adding, “We’ll work that out.”
Long a community activist in North Philadelphia, Moore has seen the neighborhood undergo radical changes over the last 30-plus years. What was once a prosperous middle-class neighborhood started to slip into decay in the mid-1970s as drug dealers invaded its streets and the homeowners who could afford to leave did so. At one point there were 20,000 vacant lots in the area, he said.
“When I came, Master Street was a model block,” he said. “Then, there was a time when this was a wilderness situation. Banks would not even loan money to buy or fix up property in North Central Philadelphia. All of a sudden we’re being rediscovered.”
That rediscovery has yielded mixed results.
“You can’t argue that [redevelopment] enhances the neighborhood,” he acknowledged. “It’s better than vacant lots.”
But, students don’t put the down same roots, he noted — and don’t have the same concern for the neighborhood.
“On Friday night it’s like a disco,” Moore said, worrying that redevelopment geared only toward students would, ultimately, fail to stabilize the entire community.
“North Philadelphia is becoming the inner-city bedroom community for Temple students,” Moore said, continuing that he’d like to see a more diverse neighborhood. “I’m not anti-development. I’m for responsible and balanced development.”
Ultimately, whether or not the district is created depends on the owners of student rentals.
The city will hold two hearings on the matter, which Clarke said he expected to happen before the end of the year. Then, owners of student rentals will vote on the proposal, which will fail only if a majority opposes the plan. According to Clarke, if 51 percent of student rental owners oppose the assessment it would be defeated. Otherwise, it will be implemented, probably by early spring, Clarke said.
Moore said he would keep urging that community residents be given a role.
“They ought not to just be rolled over because they don’t have any money,” he said.