Philadelphia is one of seven cities responsible for nearly half of the nation’s gentrification, a new study reports.
The institute which conducted the study, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, defines gentrification as the process by which money is invested in lower-income areas, causing increased property values and the entrance of higher-income residents. In recent years, as Philadelphia’s former industrial districts like Fishtown and Kensington have risen in value, the displacement which followed has disproportionately affected Latino and black residents.
This is not a new phenomenon, experts said. Beth McConnell, Policy Director of Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, wrote in an essay accompanying the recent study that Philadelphia's history is filled with instances of low-income residents being displaced from their neighborhoods. The city's past decisions have also contributed to residential segregation and the taking of opportunities from poorer neighborhoods, McConnell wrote.
The study attributed 50 percent of America's gentrification to seven large cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego, and Chicago. It found that Washington D.C. was the most gentrified city by percentage of neighborhoods gentrified, while New York City was the most gentrified by volume.
The study found that Philadelphia, with more than 12,000 affected by cultural displacement since 2000, ranks among the worst cities for black displacement.
Penn’s own campus sits on land that was claimed through gentrification. Prior to the development of University City, the area was a disadvantaged neighborhood known as Black Bottom. In the 1960s, the city seized the neighborhood through eminent domain, and Penn rebuilt it according to its 1977 Landscape Redevelopment Plan which included initiating a mortgage assistance program to encourage faculty to move into the area. Since then, the University City district has lost more than 882 low-cost rental units since 2000.
Penn’s construction in West Philadelphia has not stopped, although it has been met with increasing resistance. In 2017, the University announced construction plans for New College House West to be built on the west side of campus. In response, signs appeared last year on High Rise Field with the words "AMY GUTMANN, HANDS OFF!" in response to Penn’s continued expansion and refusal to pay PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) to support the local community and school district.
McConnell wrote that Philadelphia as a whole has created two programs to prevent evictions caused by rising property taxes — one targeted at senior citizens and the other at residents who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years.
Still, McConnell claimed that this isn’t enough to prevent the large-scale displacement caused by gentrification.
"As wealth and opportunity flow back into the city after decades of decline, it is the responsibility of policymakers to embrace ideas that not only prevent the deepening of inequality, but also begin to compensate for the errors of the past," McConnell wrote. "Philadelphia has taken a few steps forward, but as our development boom continues, we need to move quicker."