Gentrification can bring along new jobs and businesses to struggling neighborhoods, but long-term residents never seem to benefit from those opportunities, Gilberto Gonzalez said.
“Even though it’s creating all these jobs,” said the community activist and artist, “our people don’t have access to these jobs.”
Gonzalez shared his views during a panel discussion on Monday alongside Angela McIver, chief executive officer of Fair Housing Rights Center, and Philadelphia City Council members Curtis Jones and Kenyatta Johnson.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission hosted the discussion exploring gentrification in the city on Monday inside the Council Chambers in City Hall.
“Gentrification is alive and well in Philadelphia,” said moderator Jinada Rochelle, a PHRC compliance officer.
While many white people left the city in the “white flight” of the second half of the 20th century, many are coming back to Phialdelphia, said McIver, who leads an organization that works to eliminate housing discrimination throughout the region.
People now are looking to reduce their work commutes and reliance on cars, McIver said.
McIver also warned that new residents who bring new cultures into gentrifying neighborhoods may never find acceptance from the long-term residents.
“It’s not just about cultural differences that are on the surface,” she said. “It’s deep-rooted cultural differences. I’m talking about the kind where we’re not going to see eye to eye no matter how long we sit in a room together. … Why? Because we’re not wired the same in some instances.”
A 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts report analyzed gentrification in Philadelphia using census data between 2000 and 2014. The organization defined gentrified areas as those that shifted from a predominantly low-income population to a significantly higher-income one based on household income data.
The three predominantly working-class African-American tracts that gentrified, according to the study, all were located the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. They also experienced the most dramatic changes in racial composition: The Black population in those three tracts fell from 7,793 in 2000 to 3,450 in 2014, and the number of white residents more than tripled in the neighborhood.
Gentrification and the influx of new housing construction has only intensified since the study was released.
After decades of population declines, Philadelphia’s population is growing. The overall population increased by more than 6,000 between 2016 and 2017, according to Census estimates, and climbed 3.6 percent since 2010.
But Philadelphia’s poverty rate — 26 percent — remains the highest among the biggest cities in the nation.
Jones, who represents the 4th District, said he has watched as investors target his own neighborhood near St. Joseph’s University.
Gentrification, Jones said, can happen anywhere in the city, noting the eviction of hundreds of residents from the Penn Wynn House in West Philadelphia last year.
“The market forces are ruthless. I used to think, quite frankly, this was South Philly problem,” Jones said. “I thought it was a near-Temple-North-Philly problem, until Penn Wynn happened.”
Johnson said he has watched as gentrification changed his 2nd District in South Philadelphia. Helping long-term residents remain inside their home, he said, was the top issue he deals with.
City Council has passed legislation aimed at stemming gentrification, including a so-called “just cause” eviction bill adding protections for short-term renters and, more recently, expanding eligibility the Longtime Owner Occupants Program, tax breaks commonly known as LOOP, which Mayor Kenney has yet to sign or veto.
But Johnson also hinted City Council might soon take on the future of the 10-year tax abatement program, which exempts property owners from paying city and school taxes on 100 percent of certain construction and rehabilitation projects and improvements for a decade.
“Currently we’ll be looking at … during this Council session, obviously, there are discussions around how we look at the tax abatement and its impact on development in the city of Philadelphia,” Johnson said.
During the past year, bills introduced in City Council to modify the 10-year tax abatement, which cost the city an estimated $42.5 million in potential tax revenue in 2017, have stalled.