Shared Prosperity Plan for Philadelphia Poverty Punts on Lowering the Cost of Living

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There are many very good ideas in the Shared Prosperity plan for addressing poverty in Philadelphia, but overall this is pretty weak sauce. If, like me, you think that the single largest cause of poverty is that poor people don’t have enough money, and just as importantly, that their money doesn’t go far enough, then I think you should be as disappointed as I am that this plan does very little to address the cost of living – namely, housing and transportation prices.

The plan seems to be to make it easier for poor people to survive in a city with a rising cost of living, without actually trying to address any of the underlying policy choices that are inflating the cost of living.

They say right there in the housing section that costs are too high, but what follows are some fairly weak ideas for topping up incomes so people can afford the too-expensive housing:

Almost 60 percent of renters and more than 40 percent of homeowners spend one-third or more of their income on housing expenses. About 10,000 city properties are in some state of foreclosure. These problems result in part from an inadequate supply of affordable housing.

My preferred political program is a week’s pay for a month’s rent – reducing rents to a quarter of area median income through land use, tax and zoning policies aimed at creating a surplus of housing. The inadequate supply of affordable housing is a symptom of the inadequate supply of housing in general, and the overregulation of multi-family housing density in particular.

Rather than just accepting that the cost of living will keep rising, and trying to help poor people survive in that world, you need to consider that maybe it’s city policies and politics that are inflating rents. Maybe it’s political choices about who should pay for transit that make it too expensive for people in low-wage jobs to get around cheaply and conveniently. Maybe it’s too-high rents for retailers that’s pushing up the cost of food and basic needs. Stuff needs to get cheaper. An anti-poverty strategy that doesn’t attack the root causes of the high cost of living is not really worthy of the name.

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