How do you combat the growing tide of gentrification in Philadelphia to ensure longtime Black and brown residents remain in their homes?
Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the local NAACP chapter, says it starts with education and financial literacy — but doesn’t stop there.
“This is an emergency,” Muhammad said about the effect gentrification is having on African-American homeowners in the city.
He added: “If you stay in the home, you stay in the neighborhood; if you stay in the neighborhood, then the neighborhood is not gentrified. … We’re not looking to move out to the suburbs.”
While sitting in the organization’s office on Germantown Avenue in North Philadelphia, Muhammad said gentrification results in “unfavorable dislocation” and the “diminishing of wealth.”
And gentrification hits Black communities particularly hard.
“Because most of Black wealth is tied into homeownership — it’s not tied into a lot of stocks, bonds and overseas investments … When you lose your home, you lose your wealth,” Muhammad said.
For decades, financial institutions and the city have created an unequal financial playing field for African-Americans in Philadelphia when it comes to homeownership, Muhammad said.
In February, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that African Americans and Latinos nationally continue to be denied conventional mortgage loans at higher rates than white applicants. In Philadelphia, Blacks were discovered to be 2.7 times as likely to be denied conventional mortgages as whites, according to the report.
The report prompted a City Council committee in March to hold a hearing on the redlining, which is the withholding of home-loan funds or insurance from neighborhoods considered poor economic risks, traditionally based on the racial or ethnic makeup of those areas.
During the hearing, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a written statement that his office was conducting an ongoing investigation into the practices of the lending industry in the city.
“Eventually, we’re going to have to confront the financial institutions behind this,” Muhammad said. “How can you have people who live in Philadelphia and show a work record in Philadelphia, a productive life in the city of Philadelphia, who can’t get a conventional loan, [but] people who haven’t lived here 12 months able to get in here to secure loans for properties?”
In addition, Muhammad said the city’s 10-year tax abatement is “favoring people that are coming in and disfavoring, if you want to put it like that, the people who have been here and that have served the city in one way or another.”
The tax abatement exempts some property owners from paying all city and school taxes for 10 years on the added value from new construction or rehabilitation of residential and commercial properties.
The City Council is exploring whether to make changes to the tax abatement program. But a recent city-commissioned report found that the program remains a net positive for the city over the long term, although improvements to the real estate market and economy have made the program less attractive than it once was.
To offer assistance to homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments, the NAACP has partnered with Ocwen Loan Servicing to provide financial education and counseling from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th St.
The event will offer information about free programs aimed at keeping residents who are delinquent on their mortgages in their homes. Admission and parking are free, and food and beverages will be provided.
Those who attend should bring two of their most recent pay stubs and bank statements, most recent tax return, latest utility bill, a list of current expenses, and documents related to other mortgages.
At least 9,000 Philadelphia homeowners are delinquent on their mortgages, predominantly residents of Black and brown neighborhoods, Muhammad said.
Many of the homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods, such as Point Breeze, have been bombarded with phone calls, knocks on their doors and flyers from aggressive developers seeking to buy their homes.
Pushy homebuyers are nothing new to resident Ruth Birchett.
Flyers from interested developers are left daily at a home that’s been in Birchett’s family since the 1950s, a three-story dwelling on the 1900 block of Norris Street in North Philadelphia. She’s also received phone calls from so-called investors pitching low-ball offers for the house near Temple University, which is an area that has undergone rapid redevelopment in recent years.
“They’re trying to get the houses for so much less. … It’s really distressing because we’re trying to hold on to what little we have. Our heritage is wrapped up in these homes,” said Birchett, who also is part of an activist group against Temple’s plan to build a new football stadium.
Muhammad admitted that preventing gentrification from pushing out longtime homeowners will take more than one event.
“We’re starting something,” he said. “We don’t pretend that we have a full-proof plan, but we know we’ve got to start somewhere.”
What: The Philadelphia NAACP is partnering with Ocwen Loan Services to provide help for homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgage payments. Residents can learn about housing and receive counseling services, among other things.
When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th St.
What to bring: Two most recent pay stubs and bank statements, most recent tax return, latest utility bill, a list of current expenses, documents related to other mortgages.
More information: Call 215-455-1011.