Philly Needs More Pro-Growth Land Use Advocacy, Less Arson From Building Trades Union

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Philaphilia is one of my favorite blogs (maybe my most favorite blog!), and one of the things you notice as a Philaphilia reader is that NIMBY groups manage to get a whole lot of development projects shut down in Philly.

NIMBYs have managed to turn the process for obtaining a variance into a political ordeal, and under the old zoning code, they were able to force all kinds of projects to go through this process – effectively giving NIMBYs veto power over new buildings. The new code allows more projects to get built by-right, with no political interference, but recently members of City Council have been trying to roll back those changes. The effect would be more red tape and less new construction.

I think that’s the appropriate backdrop for this story about members of the Philly building trades union burning down a non-union construction project, and the past few months of stories about the Goldtex controversy.

Demand for multi-family housing in Philly appears to be pretty strong right now. That demand should translate into lots of new construction projects. And the resulting demand for construction workers should be a boon to members of the building trades union. But many of these construction projects face hyper-local opposition from neighbors, and right now its an open political question as to how much power City Council will give back to neighbors to veto development projects.

That is where the building trades unions should focus their political efforts.

Rather than fighting individual developers over whether individual projects will use union or non-union labor, the unions should be focusing on more total development – fast-tracking the approval process for construction, raising the cost of land speculation, eliminating regulatory curbs on the housing supply, and anything else you can think of that will boost the total amount of construction happening.

What’s so frustrating is that this is a live debate, happening right now, but the only pro-growth voices you see quoted in articles on these issues are planning nerd bloggers, developers and some academics. The interest group with the most to gain from more construction – the building trades – has been strangely quiet about this, at least in the press. Maybe they are lobbying behind the scenes or something?

This entry was posted in Economy, Land Use, Transportation.

4 Responses to Philly Needs More Pro-Growth Land Use Advocacy, Less Arson From Building Trades Union

  1. Ed H. says:

    So, you’ve convicted union members without a trial. I just don’t get how any liberal is so anti-worker.

  2. Ed H. says:

    Yes, there should be more development around the city. And there should be more guarantees that new projects are able to protect the area wages, which non-union contractors are putting pressure on lowering by constantly trying to out compete each other by cutting each others’ throats by always going to the bottom. The damage is lost opportunities in the economy when wages are depressed, particularly in a demand depressed time like we’re in. The upside of encouraging more development is the opportunity to get more construction workers to join unions.

    But there can be an upside to NIMBY approaches protecting neighborhoods and the reasons why people will move to them or stay. I’m watching a neighborhood near me crumble in Frankford section because of methadone clinics moving in and destroying the communities they are in. I’m a for treatment of the people who are afflicted with drug and alcohol addiction (I have a history of working to get help for those who need it and believe in treatment over incarceration). So, when local groups are opposed to certain projects, its often because they are the ones living with, or picking up and leaving for the suburbs over, the externalities that people from outside of the community are imposing on them.

  3. Jon says:

    The flip side is that underbuilding hurts everyone’s real wages, not just construction workers. Rents are too high right now and land prices are going back up. That’s taking a big bite out of people’s real disposable income. The top priority has to be lowering rents, lowering transportation costs, and reducing the cost of living.