Dampening the Displacement

Across the country, there has been a phenomenon of what was previously considered gentrification, which began with people of color being excluded from marginalized neighborhoods when developers finally approached the local government entities with improvement projects. Steadily, more people began to lack renovation funds on older properties, and older residents were unable to maintain the funds for property taxes; younger potential homeowners drawn by the neighborhoods’ reputations were unable to purchase without help or bad financing, causing the area to lose its previous personality. Finally, academics and public entities recognized the process as displacement, in which everyone–regardless of race–is shifted from a neighborhood to make room for wealthy homeowners.

The process of displacement begins when an area located close to an amenity becomes a target for future development. Amenities can be highways, bodies of water, central business districts, or parks, but the characteristics generally include areas where potential business owners have failed to secure seed money, or existing businesses are unable to receive loans for improvement. Often, the residents are low-income and work outside their communities, dealing with the majority of the city seeing their homes as “bad neighborhoods.” While Philadelphia is home to a number of families with extensive wealth, it follows the Dickensian pattern of segregated rich neighborhoods adjacent to impoverished communities, making it ripe for displacement opportunities. Also, there are several tourist attractions due to the city being home to several historic figures such as Benjamin Franklin.

Next, the developers approach the city with a number of proposals, many claiming that the market requires little other than affordable housing. The problem with the supply/demand model of housing means that entire cities can become playgrounds for the wealthy that are justified by the idea that one day, the prices will reduce enough so that the middle and working class can rejoin the glittering cities. One developer in Philadelphia attempted to state that there would be some affordable housing, but then removed the units from the final proposal, causing outrage from residents and activists in a city that is already losing its affordability. Oversight has been scarce due to cities desiring to appear as attractive as possible to people with the most disposable income, protecting the tax base

Finally, the projects are built and to complement the trendy housing, most of the developers solicit high-end businesses marketed to luxury clientele. Instead of the gas stations, predatory lending, and fast food that previous residents had to endure for decades, small grocers, coffee shops, and bars—places that make people feel comfortable and welcome—are built and the new residents comment on how beautiful the new areas are because of the revitalization. None of the previous residents were able to enjoy the amenities and to add insult to injury, those forced out may have to seek employment at one of the new businesses for less than a living wage.

In Philadelphia, an advocacy group called The Healthy Rowhouse Project scored an immense victory of $40 million to renovate existing townhomes, allowing the residents low-interest loans of up to $25,000. Anyone who has ever seen a home improvement show knows that $25,000 can go a long way: a paint job, refinishing hardwood floors, and in some cases, redoing bathrooms or kitchens. Commitment to all citizens is a worthy goal, and while Philadelphia has much to account for, this project recognizes that the city should be more than a tourist attraction. For years, people have been unable to come up with reasonable solutions to such a rampant problem, but Philadelphia, itself a target of rampant displacement, has developed a program to help longtime residents either keep their homes or obtain reasonable appraisals instead of being forced to accept substandard offers.

Image: Rowhouses at 5855 Addison Road, Philadelphia. 70% of all housing units in the city are rowhouses.

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