As goes University City, so goes the University. This mindset permeates the administration's rhetoric so often that it's almost hackneyed. Even the new postal-land developments are being marketed as "forging connections between University City and Center City."
But there's one way Penn could inextricably unite itself with the University City District that we aren't pursuing vigorously. It's pretty simple: The Penn community should live in University City.
A few hundred faculty members and staff moving here would represent a major financial investment for the UCD. "The viability of this University is intimately linked to maintaining the vitality and improvement of this community," said director of Penn Home Ownership Services Toyin Adegbite Moore.
If more professors lived here, the merely academic investigations of the challenges Philly faces would become quite real for some of the brightest folks in the world, leading to tangible and immediate reforms. These days, in Philly, you see more sports championships than substantial reform.
Home is more than where the heart is; it's where the mind is. Tired of late trains, Engineering professors might find a way to fix SEPTA. Fearing the crime from high unemployment, Wharton professors would brainstorm the best strategies to attract jobs. Sick of corruption, the Poli Sci professors could team up to revamp City Hall.
Through Penn Home Ownership Services, eligible faculty and staff can qualify for preferred mortgages. The home simply must be within an established boundary encompassing University City and other parts of West Philly. Another program offers a five-year, forgivable $7,500 loan for home improvement. Every year a fifth of the amount is forgiven, so after five years participants would owe nothing, provided the home remained their primary residence. Since these programs began in 1998 about 1,100 faculty and staff have taken part in the program.
This sounds great - until you realize that 1,100 is only 5 percent of the 20,493 faculty and staff at Penn.
In The University and Urban Revival, former Penn President/possible saint Judith Rodin wrote, "While there has been great improvement in the housing market, there is still a relatively low rate of home ownership and a limited supply of quality mixed-income housing in the area." Penn can - and should - do more to encourage home ownership.
The $7,500 loan is laudable, but from 1998 to 2004 they could get $15,000. Penn should offer this amount again. And in order to spur more stabilization and economic expansion in West Philly, we should give even more for employees living along the periphery of the current boundaries.
Moreover, employees who relocate to West Philly should have their moving costs covered by the University. It's the institutional equivalent of helping a friend move into your neighborhood.
Investments in University City are investments in Penn. The cost of more loans will be covered by the benefits to the community. A home improvement loan and no moving costs wouldn't hurt faculty recruitment, either.
But isn't this just more vile Penntrification? Adegbite Moore doesn't think so. "The community really supports people owning homes," she said.
Some of you must be thinking, "Why the hell would any sane professor want to live next to me?"
No one in their right mind would want to be my neighbor. Not even Mr. Rogers. I am obnoxiously loud and the pounds of body hair I shed regularly wreak havoc on plumbing systems. I'm probably to blame for any flooded basement around here in the past three years. I'm sorry.
But given the right economic incentives - like larger loans and reimbursed moving costs - even the most respectable economics Ph.D. could rationalize living next to jackasses like me. $15,000 is a lot when homes sell for under $150,000, which is still the case in some parts of University City. That Ph.D. could even use the loan to soundproof his house to drown out the frat next door - or he could be a huge dick and bitch anyway.
The professor living in Ardmore is no more a part of this community than I am a part of the Jewish community. One cannot truly belong to a community without living there; much like eating at Hillel doesn't really help me with God. But it does leave me pleasantly free of the post-Commons runs. Todah rabah, Hillel.
If you're a professor, move here. If you're an employee, buy a home here. If you're an administrator, help the professor move here and help more staff afford the American dream of home ownership.
If what's good for Philly is good for Penn, then this would be great for both.
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Toms River, N.J. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You, Sir, are an Idiot appears on Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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