This land grab plan from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority is by far the most insane idea for fighting gentrification I’ve ever seen:
Walking through the area now, the transition is evident in its mix of older two- to three-story rowhomes, sleeker modern construction and corner stores, punctuated by an ever-diminishing supply of vacant land, as infill construction continues to flood the neighborhood. In recent months, the area has become symbolic of city-wide tensions over changes that many longtime residents see as gentrification and others see as needed development. But while Mayor Michael Nutter has remained silent on the issue, the state redevelopment authority has now quietly stepped in with a plan that the authority says will, through seizing private property using its power of eminent domain, create affordable housing and ostensibly, lessen pressures on homeowners and renters who fear being priced out.
The attempt to seize large amounts of privately held land is a peculiar reversal for an agency that has nominally made strides towards offloading the backlog of properties it has accumulated over 67 years of urban renewal activities. Over the past decade, PRA and the city have faced broad criticism for creating blight by holding on to land for decades without development and not maintaining their properties. In recent years, the Nutter administration has pushed the PRA and other city agencies to start selling off some of the nearly 12,000 vacant, city-owned properties to stimulate development [...]
[Developer Ori Feibush] claims the land grab is a result of the PRA being politically pressured by affordable housing developers who have the ear of the local councilman, Kenyatta Johnson, to increase the pool of land they could develop. Feibush says this move could squeeze out future private development opportunities in a section of the neighborhood that has seen a building boom. “They’re strictly condemning parcels in the most desirable part of Point Breeze,” Feibush said. Other owners did not return calls for comment.
As Ryan Briggs helpfully points out, the increase in development pressure on Point Breeze is the result of rising land values. More people want to live in the neighborhood, and that’s pushing up rents and creating profit opportunities to build new housing.
There’s only two things you can really do in response to this. You can either let developers build as many housing units as people want to use, or you can actively try to make the neighborhood crappier so nobody wants to live there.
The PRA plan appears to be the latter – keeping the neighborhood full of ugly vacant lots to make it unpleasant to live there, in hopes that land values don’t rise more. But land values will rise more. The proximity to Center City is what’s creating the development pressure on Point Breeze.
Keeping valuable land off the market is just going to drive Point Breeze rents up more, by making the remaining non-government owned parcels even more expensive. The PRA is never going to own the majority of land parcels in the neighborhood. Even if a few dozen people get sub-market units in the neighborhood, everybody else is worse off because this is going to make the market rates on the remaining land even higher.
The only way to keep the neighborhood affordable over the long term is to allow developers to meet the demand for housing. Lots of people are unduly skeptical that this works, but the fact is that we hear the terms “buyer’s market” and “seller’s market” all the time, when developers have built either too much or too little housing, respectively.
City land use policy should be focused on trying to maintain a permanent buyer’s market that always has a little too much housing. The affordable housing policy can’t just be carving out some sub-market rate units for some people – it has to be about pushing down the market rate so that housing is cheap and plentiful for everyone citywide.