Logan: Education and Crime Top Issues For Voters

NextMayorLogo2015According to community activist Sheila Bellamy, the voting for the primaries is usually low in numbers because many people do not see the importance.

“In my district, there are 540-something registered voters, she said yesterday morning at the Birney Preparatory Academy, located at 9th Street and Lindley Avenue. “If we can get 200 today, we’re going to be really happy.“

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The people of the Logan section of the city believe that the best candidate for this year’s mayoral election has to be someone who attends to the issues of the community.

Bellamy said that her main concern today is the youth being targeted by police.

“Some of these boys are being murdered unarmed,” said Bellamy.

Crime and education are what the people of Logan believe are important, unaddressed issues of the neighborhood.

Like many other neighborhoods, Logan schools have also suffered because of the Philadelphia School District’s budget cuts. Voter Terry Holloway, a home-care worker and Logan community member for 35 years, stressed the importance of the next mayor tackling the school district’s funding issue.

“They’re jamming up the schools and pushing too many students together,“ said Holloway. “They need more money so they have enough supplies for the kids.“

Improving the different community facilities and recreational centers are also on the list of concerns for Logan residents. Eighty-one-year-old Marion Johnson, a community leader at Barrett Playground at 8th and Duncannon streets, has been a resident of the community for 41 years. Every second Thursday of each month, Johnson and fellow members of community meet to discuss how to improve the social conditions of the neighborhood.

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Johnson hopes that the next mayor will help upgrade and enhance the neighborhood recreation center for the youth.

“A lot of youth come there but they deserve better than what they’re getting,” said Johnson. “It is a saving grace in a way but the quality of it needs to be improved.“

 

Parent involvement is what Johnson believes is an essential piece missing from Philadelphia schools.

“You’d have forces behind the children and you’d be able to put forces on those agencies that need to be dealing with the situation,” Johnson said. “No Matter what, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.”

The members of the community believe that the way to persuade a mayor to make a change and tend to a community is to assemble and put pressure on whoever is running for office.

“Candidates can make speeches about what they want to do,” said Johnson, “but unless you stay behind them and put some pressure on them – it’s a proven fact – they might just slip right on through the holes.”

– Text and images by Clayton Hoffstein and Terence Oliver.

Primary Election Day 2015: Don’t Count Those Millennials Out Yet

NextMayorLogo2015Philadelphia has significant problem when it comes to voting, especially when the focus is on municipal elections rather than national. Of all folks who fall into the roughly 75 to 80 percent of registered voters who opt-out of voting, Generation-X and Millennials are by far the least likely to vote, according to statistics.

Knowing that this issue is nearly systemic in nature, it’s important to understand why young voters choose to not get involved.

More importantly, a variety of organizations around the city are working tirelessly to not just register voters but also educate them on the critical issues that could affect them. If the Millennials show up at the polls, rest assured that theses organizations played a significant role.

Nonpartisan Organizations

Young Involved Philadelphia, Unity in the Community and Influencing Action Movement came together with the nonpartisan national political action committee CROWDPAC to put together a Young Voter Education Week, just a week before the May municipal primary. The plan is to repeat these events prior to any election in Philadelphia.

Young Involved Philadelphia has been around for more than a decade and has worked diligently in this election cycle to raise voter engagement and education through a myriad of methods.

“Our overarching goal when we approach pretty much anything within YIP,” said Mike Thomas of YIP, “is to remove barriers for young adults in the city.”

In the past, YIP has run workshops to help explain the complicated ward and committee system in the city. That eventually lead to 40 young people running for positions and 11 to become elected.

“The goal was to say this is not a mystical person,” said Thomas, “but this an actual human being who probably lives down the street from you that you never knew before.”

This year YIP held The City Council Candidate Convention. In a partnership with WHYY and the Committee of Seventy, every city council member running for a contested seat was invited to set up a table and interact with young voters. The event brought together more than 400 young voters. They offered young voters a “cheat-sheet” that had over 100 questions voters could ask the candidates, even broken down by issue.

However YIP does more than just events. They coordinate phone banks and canvas neighborhoods in an effort to get voters to the polls.

“Since we’re nonpartisan, it makes for a pretty easy conversation” said Thomas. “We are just calling to say, ‘Hey you should really go vote! Are you going early? Are you going at night?’ Really, the overarching purpose is for people to know that this is something they should be involved in.”

For the purpose of canvasing, YIP has targeted down to the division level areas with the highest population of young voters with the lowest turnout. They also have spearheaded a program of distributing 2000 bar coasters to 20 local bars to drive a digital experience allowing those who interact with the program a method to calculate how much their drinking contributes to funding schools in Philadelphia.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.39.42 AMBoth Unity in the Community and Influencing Action Movement are attempting to reach the young audience through both grassroots and digital means. The plan is to reach young voters where they already are: text, social media and at the bar.

Their digital strategy includes a Young Voter Education week text alert system, where by texting IAMvoting to a specific number allows that person to remain aware of the where and when an event is taking place. The alert then prompts the user to tweet why they’re voting and utilize #missingvotePHL.

“We’ve provided an opportunity for community groups, both large and small, to get into the communities and really target those people who are not voting,” said Felicia Harris, president and CEO of Influencing Action Movement.

One of the events held by Unity In The Community was a meet-the-candidate happy hour at 22nd Street Café. The purpose was to create an opportunity for those who may not typically interact with candidates to have a beer with them and talk about the issues that concerned them.

“There are a lot of tough issues facing the millennials,” said Anton Moore of Unity In The Community. “So, we need to have a say so in this election because the mayor and city council members we elect will most likely [serve] another term in four years.”

Philadelphia council members on average are the longest tenured municipal city officials in the United States, serving on average 15.5 years, according to the PEW Charitable trust.

The only non-Philly based member of this coalition might also be the most transformative when it comes to impacting elections: CROWDPAC.

“Philly is so old school politics,” said Elizabeth Jaff, Political Director at CROWDPAC. “I think this is going to be really interesting because the idea is to put the tools into the power of the people and it’s the youth who are accessing stuff on social media.”

CROWDPAC, based in California and co-founded by Stanford University professors Steve Hilton and Amam Bonica, along with tech-entrepreneur Gisel Kordestani, smashes crowd funding, data-analytics and politics together to turn out a nonpartisan method of ranking candidates along a liberal/conservative spatial model. The ranking of 10C (conservative) or 10L (liberal) are rating’s the candidate can be scored.

To oversimplify how the ranking algorithm works, it combines whom they took money from, the donor who gave the funds and how the candidate votes. The results proved that on a federal level, it was 96 percent accurate before voting was even added in.

“What’s very interesting with Philadelphia is it’s less about party and really about actively getting people resources,” said Jaff. “What are you upset about? Potholes, biking lanes, education funding. Things that we can fix.”

CROWDPAC makes voting a social experience by giving users the ability to build their own ballots on their site, donate directly to candidates and then share that ballot via social media or email.

CROWDPAC plans to expand into 10 major cities over the next year. Jaff sees the organization as a fully nonpartisan tool that really seeks to raise voter engagement.

“You can either keep talking to the same people voting, or you can try and talk to new people,” said Jaff.

Partisan Organizations

 They are a few organizations that specifically advocate for the needs of young voters in Philadelphia, Philadelphia 3.0 and Philly Set Go are at the top of that list. Both are political action committees that endorse candidates. However, Philly Set Go also donates to candidates who they believe best represent the interests of young residents of the city.

Philadelphia 3.0, which has been around for just six months and is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, has being doing their fair share of street-level grassroots efforts to get voters registered. In fact, if you are a Philadelphian and wondered whom the people with the clipboards registering people to vote on your campus or in your neighborhood, it was probably them.

“What we have tried to do is simply engage new voices,” said T.J. Hurst, deputy director of Philadelphia 3.0. “We did a huge voter registration push in emerging neighborhoods and registered exactly 1,053 new voters in Philly, which is a substantial chunk when you are talking about the difference between last-winner and first-loser in an at-large city council race.”

Philadelphia 3.0’s website provides young voters a chance for a quick peek into city politics. One of the first aspects pointed out is the unusually long tenure that Philadelphia City Council members have. The organization is also much less focused on the mayor’s race than they are on the at-large city council seats that are up for grabs, endorsing candidates whom they feel align with their interest.

“This is another very thorough process that we feel very proud of,” said Hurst. “We put together an endorsement committee of people who really represented the community, a diverse group of strong leaders from around the city.”

The committee is made up five people: Brigitte Daniel, Cynthia Figueroa, Dr. Beatriz Garces, Christine Jacobs and Keith Leaphart. The selection process also includes this insight of executive director Alison Pealman and Hurst as well.

The committee then utilized Philly 3.0’s candidate questionnaire that was sent to every candidate for city council and an interview process with the candidates to provide the committee with the most information to make their endorsements. They received at total of 27 responses from all the candidates running for city council.

“We wanted to be effective and wanted to make a difference our first time out, so we thought it was best to be laser focused on city council,” said Hurst.

The list of Philadelphia 3.0’s endorsement’s as well as a copy of the questionnaire can be found on their website.

The other emerging PAC specifically for young voters in Philadelphia is Philly Set Go. The organization officially launched in January of 2015 and held their launch party the popular Center City bar Ladder 15.

“Philly Set Go is unlike most millennial civic or political groups in Philadelphia,” said Gabriela Guaracao, board member of Philly Set Go. “We are a PAC and so our primary focus is on raising funds so that we can use that to donate to candidates.”

Guaracao says that members of Philly Set Go felt the most impactful way to influence politics in Philadelphia was to go the route of forming a PAC based on the resources that they have.

Their mission is two part: voter registration and education, and to get the attention of elected officials with an emphasis on issues that relate directly to the Millennial arriving in the city.

“We wanted to educate the Millennial population on why it’s important vote for mayor, why it’s important to vote for city council,” said Guaracao. “Things like job growth and K-12 education are the reasons that Millennials will leave the city if they’re not addressed.”

Philly Set Go utilizes a mostly event-based agenda to engage voters because each board members involvement is essentially extracurricular. Currently, their strategy doubles as both a grassroots engagement method and a chance to fundraise for their PAC at every event.

Their website allows new voters to register by utilizing a built in Rock the Vote application. They plan to continue to organize events following the May primary to educate voters and continue to fundraise for their organization.

– Text and images by Zachary Rendin.

Who’s Got The Buck$?

Running for the mayor of the 5th largest city in the United States does not come without forking out a large sum of money. To run for mayor in Philadelphia you have to be ready to spend millions-either your own or money you receive through soliciting campaign donations. The latter is something that has become increasingly challenging since candidates running for city offices are limited by contribution caps set at $2,900 for individuals and $11,500 for organizations.

The Philadelphia campaign finance rules are being called some of the most restrictive in the country and the campaign has already lost a candidate because of the difficulty of raising money.

“The money was a big factor,” Gillen was quoted saying in an interview back in January when she announced she was dropping out of the race. She had manage to raise more than $225,000 from more than 500 donors at that time and still didn’t believe that it was enough to compete and have the kind of campaign she wanted.

No candidate in this 2015 election has yet to cross the half-million mark. Lynne Abrahams is leading the pack with approximately $488,000, followed by Anthony H. Williams with $466,000 and James Kenney with just over $116,000.

One candidate, T. Milton Street, has yet to raise $5,000. This is a stark contrast to the 2007 election-the last time an incumbent was not running- where three of the major candidates had passed the million dollar mark this far into the election. Thomas Knox, Michael Nutter and Dwight Evans had a combined total of $6 million by this time of the election process.

So where exactly are the candidates going to get money from to finance their campaign needs? All arrows point to Super PAC’s (Political Action Committees).

PAC’s are independent and therefore not beholden to the fundraising limits that the candidates face. As long as they don’t coordinate with campaigns, they can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the mayor’s race.

The first TV ad to run for a candidate didn’t occur until March 11, and it was by political action committee Building a Better Pennsylvania-in support of James Kenney.
That was the first time in the history of the Philadelphia mayoral race that the opening TV ad was aired by an outside group instead of the candidate. Kenney left it up to the Super PAC, instead of his campaign, to introduce him to potential voters.

By the start of the New Year in 2007, candidate Tom Knox had already spent an additional $2million on early T.V. ads.

What’s to blame for the lack of money, week fundraising or waiting on “dark money” from these Super PACS? Whatever the reason, it does not seem like these candidates will be able to catch up to the earning power of the 2007 election. Hopefully, the lesson to be learned from this for future candidates is, money doesn’t always win elections.

– Text and visualization by Rochelle Brown

Public Schools Versus Charter Schools

There are many issues that the candidates for the next mayor of Philadelphia are dealing with as they continue their campaigns. Some examples of issues that many citizens are concerned with include crime, taxes and jobs.

Another major issue, one that seems to be at the forefront of the upcoming election is education. If one would ask current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, he would more than likely tell them that education is always an issue in this city.

The School District of Philadelphia operates with a $2.5 billion budget for over 220,000 students. This year, the school district is facing an $80 million deficit, and each candidate seems to have a different plan on how to deal with that deficit, as does current Mayor Nutter.

Mayor Nutter’s plan to deal with the school funding deficit calls for a raise in property taxes in the city, a plan that is opposed by all of the mayoral candidates.

At the heart of the education issue is the debate between public schools and charter schools, and which type should receive how much of the school district’s budget.

Approximately 31 percent of the schools that are part of the School District of Philadelphia are charter schools, and the remainder are public schools.

On the surface, it would appear that the candidates are attempting to sweep this debate under the rug. Democratic candidate Anthony Hardy Williams has said publicly that he is tired of beating up on one type of school. This is despite Williams’s campaign being backed by the Susquehanna International Group, which is known to be a proponent of charter schools.

Earlier on in the process, Williams also stated that he would be willing to accept a $35 million donation from the Philadelphia School Partnership, a non-profit advocacy group that is not associated with the school district. This $35 million donation would go towards increasing the number of seats in the city’s charter schools.

This suggests that Williams is on the pro-charter schools side of the debate, while some of his opponents, most notably Jim Kenney, are pro-public schools.

Kenney and Williams are on completely opposite ends of the debate when it comes to expanding charter schools.

According to Crowdpac, Kenney “supports the adoption of the community schools and a more aligned approach to delivering education and support to children.”

These community schools would be public schools placed in certain communities, and become centers for social and medical services for students and their families.

When Williams said he would accept a $35 million donation to increase the seats in charter schools, Kenney and other candidates opposed, saying that any donation should go towards charter schools and public schools equally.

The public versus charter debate is a hotly contested one, and many citizens have strong feelings for one particular type of school. Below is a visualization showing enrollment numbers, graduation numbers and dropout numbers for both public and charter schools in the 2012-2013 school year.

For these statistics, only schools that offer grades 7 through 12 were included, as those are the grades when some students will begin to potentially choose to drop out of school.

In Philadelphia in 2012-2013, public schools had a little more than twice as many 7th-12th grade students as charter schools. That is not much of a surprise, as charter schools have just recently started to grow in the city of Philadelphia.

The one common perception is that charter schools provide a better quality education, but some of the numbers, specifically graduation numbers, suggest otherwise.

As the visualization shows, 8,029 students graduated from public schools, compared to just 3,337 from charter schools. The number of public school graduates is greater on its own, but also when total enrollment is involved.

According to the data, 14.5 percent of public school students graduated, while just 12 percent of charter school students graduated. That does not seem like a big disparity, but when it comes to talking about tens of thousands of students, that’s very notable.

The piece of information that is positive for those who are pro-charter school is the dropout data. 1,402 students dropped out of public schools in 2012-2013. That is 92 percent of all dropouts that school year. Students who attend charter schools tend to stay there, and graduate in most cases.

While that information is positive for charter schools on the surface, it also makes a case for funding to go to public schools. In Philadelphia, there are public schools on the brink of closing. Many of the facilities need improvements, and the students do not receive the funding necessary for them to succeed.

All of the mayoral candidates agree that school funding is a major issue, but each has a different plan of attack. Some feel that adding charter schools is the way to go, while others would rather improve the current public schools.

When it comes to data and statistics, it appears that making improvements to the public schools is where the funding should go.

– Text and visualization by Jayson Loose

Changing landscapes: Looking to Philadelphia’s Promise Zone and University City for a way out of gentrification

A small, plain building sitting next to an open lot at 42nd and Lancaster Avenue might hold the start of major changes in the Belmont neighborhood. The building houses the New Africa Center, a museum showcasing people and organizations from the neighborhood that played a role in the African-American struggle for freedom, from abolition to emancipation to the Civil Rights era and today.

Abdul Rahim Muhammad, the executive director of the New Africa Center has a plan: rebrand the neighborhood to help preserve its history and identity as the processes of gentrification continue to alter the landscape of the community.

Recently designated one of President Obama’s Promise Zones, this area of Philadelphia was selected because roughly half of its 35,315 residents live below the poverty line. The Promise Zone initiative will focus on urban renewal through education, job creation and funding.

Muhammad wants to preserve the neighborhood’s identity in the face of the changes the Promise Zone funding may bring. Growing up a few blocks away from the Black Bottom, what is now called University City, he remembers tensions that brewed after the neighborhood received redevelopment attention decades ago.

“The branding for this is to make our footprint in the area to try and preserve that story,” he said.

If he can brand the neighborhood as the New Freedom District, Muhammad says this will help incorporate existing residents and create a smoother transition through the gentrification process. He said he hopes to work closely with University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to collaborate on the transitions of the neighborhood while also retaining its original culture.

Remembering the Past

As University City continues to expand, Muhammad and others in the neighborhood remember the time of the Black Bottom. The Black Bottom got its name from its location and its residents: a primarily African American community, located at the bottom of West Philadelphia. Bounded on the east and west from 32nd to 40th streets, Powleton Avenue in the north and Chester Avenue to the south, the Black Bottom, or commonly called the Bottom by residents transformed from the 1950’s until the 1970’s as University of Pennsylvania revitalization projects focused heavily on the neighborhood.

In the early 1950’s, the G.I. Bill brought an influx of students and funding to the schools bordering the Black Bottom: University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and University of the Sciences. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority deemed the neighborhood a “redevelopment zone and teaming up with Presbyterian Hospital, the universities formed the West Philadelphia Corporation in 1959. Purchasing abandoned houses from absentee landowners, the partnership boarded them up or demolished them, leaving empty lots and homes.

In 1963, the West Philadelphia Corporation summed-up their views of the neighborhood in A New Concept for Old Neighbors: “Physical and social ills began to grow amid substandard housing. Crime and juvenile delinquency reared their evil heads. Hoodlum gangs roamed the Powelton-Mantua area.”

As a result, the document said, students lived in the crime-riddled neighborhood, whereas faculty chose to live elsewhere. The tension between students and residents rose when in 1956, a Korean student was murdered by what the authors of the report called “hoodlums who roamed the area.”

Thus, University City was born.

But tension remained between the neighborhood residents and the University. “As some cultures and humans clashed over perceived scarce resources. Some individuals and groups saw the opportunity to profit from the needs and struggles over land,” Dr. Walter Palmer, an instructor at University of Pennsylvania and a former resident of the Black Bottom wrote about the neighborhood’s history.

Adding to this tension, the city declared parts of the neighborhood blighted and used eminent domain to seize property and redevelop the land in the 1970’s. Over 2,000 black residents were displaced during this process of neighborhood beautification and university unification.

Not all former residents were upset by these changes. Resident Gloria Bickerstaff, 62, has lived in the area her entire life and saw the Bottom’s transition to University City.

“It was racial but now it’s together. The black and white, we are all together. I love it now more than back in the day. There was fights, stabbings and shootings. Everything was going on back in the day. Now we are more peaceful. I love it the way it is now,” Bickerstaff said.

Before the gentrification process, the neighborhood was unsafe, Bickerstaff said. “When I was growing up I got raped. But people didn’t care about us because I was down the bottom. It wasn’t like somebody was watching out for me like here,” she said.

The neighborhood, Bickerstaff said, is now far safer. Her current neighbors watch her as she leaves in the morning for work and makes sure she gets home safely.

An Ongoing Process

As the universities continue grow in student population and real estate, old wounds bleed anew.
“This area is changing. And just like the Black Bottom, and all this gentrification people are talking about going on right now and this urban renewal, it’s all good. But many times there’s still a lot of unfair and unjust things that take place,” Muhammad said.

So Muhammad and his allies plan to fight for the neighborhood. The New Freedom District idea was originally born out of conversations and meetings with community members when the area was declared to be a Promise Zones early last year.

During meetings with The People’s Emergency Center, residents discussed what they wanted for their neighborhood. What came of these meetings, Muhammad said, was a desire to preserve neighborhood identity. And with that, the idea of rebranding Lancaster Avenue as The New Freedom District was born.

Muhammad, 63, has lived in the area his entire life. He grew up during the Civil Rights movement. His father knew Malcolm X, whom he remembers watching preach about the struggle their community faced and coming over for lunch with his family. His father was so instrumental in the community that two Philadelphia murals were painted in his image.

Muhammad said he wants to turn the New Africa Center into a five-story facility that would offer a museum on the first floor, a business, arts and technology center on the second floor and low-income housing on the third. Already the space is used as a museum and the lot across the street is used as a soup-kitchen and venue for community concerts, programs, and movie screenings.

The area is rich in history and Muhammad plans to preserve the cultural heritage by offering tours of the neighborhood, which will focus on the abolitionist movement, the Quakers, and the civil rights history.

Working with others in the community, he has identified forty places in Belmont, Mantua and Powelton Village to include on the New Freedom District tours. Some stops on his future tour include The Old Quaker Building at 35th and Lancaster, The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial marker and Mural, the Underground Railroad and the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Philadelphia is a tourist mecca and so my hope is that if we design this Freedom District and develop nice tours and preserve our story in a nice museum we can help create jobs,” he said.

While his museum currently has a focus on African-American muslims in the community, he wants to expand it to include African churches as well to show visitors the important role the faith community has played in organizing and supporting the area over its rich history, connecting current conditions to a long cultural heritage.

“These churches were founded by the Mother Bethel churches in the early 1800s. The whole idea was these people distinguished themselves as Africans and they weren’t calling themselves ‘colored’ and they weren’t calling themselves ‘Negros.’ In my generation we would say the Negro is nothing but a product of slavery. There wasn’t such thing as Negroes before slavery. Negroes were branded and so brutally treated, having no access to education or their own cultural links. Society told our people that we were inferior and we weren’t even human beings. These African churches show that these people thought of themselves as African and they were connected to their culture,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad said the community is already feeling the effects of gentrification due to increased property taxes in the last three years and worries about these community members who are slowly being pushed out under the banner of gentrification.

“People need to find ways to still accommodate people that have been left out. Social issues need to be addressed,” he said.

All Aboard?

Not everyone believes in the promise of the Promise Zone. Jennifer Johnson is a Temple University graduate student focusing on ceramics. A 53-year-old white woman from Powelton Village, Johnson has been closely following the developments in the neighborhood.

“The Promise Zone is crazy. It includes the University of Pennsylvania Law School. That is crazy to me. The University of Pennsylvania Law School runs Philadelphia. Every kind of middle class politician and above comes out of there. It is the seed of power in the city and the fact it got into the promise zone just boggles my mind,” she said.

Johnson decided to do something different to help preserve the neighborhood in the face of changes driven by growth at the universities.

The West Philadelphia University City High School and the University of Pennsylvania created a mosaic memorializing Black Bottom’s gentrification struggles in the late 1990’s. The mosaic, now chipped and in need of restoration, showed African-Americans in front of a row of homes putting their hands up as a bulldozer drew near. It also included a map of the Black Bottom and a heart with two hands holding onto each other.

With a putty knife and a mallet, Johnson removed the mosaic by herself in one week.

“It’s in terrible condition and I had a week to do it in. It is pretty intact and most importantly the heart and the hand came off in one piece. I was so excited I started screaming,” she said.

After saving more than 60 percent of the original mural, she is meeting with the high school’s alumni association to solidify a plan for the mural’s final resting place.

“I feel this obligation to the work and it seems really meaningful to me. My choice is to reinstall it on that site. That would be the dream. It has this huge narrative potential,” she said.

Johnson said the neighborhood should include more mixed income housing, where rich and poor people of all races mix on a daily basis. “That’s what the city used to be but I think we are moving to another city, like an apartheid city,” she said.

Quinton J. Alexander, 31, is an improv comedian who performs at the Community Education Center’s Meeting House Theatre in University City. He echoed similar concerns to Johnson about pushing out existing communities.

“We should be concentrating on the communities that are here now instead of forcing out the people that are already there,” he said.

Living in Newbold neighborhood, a recently rebranded neighborhood once known as Point Breeze, he said that rebranding efforts there led to the pushing out of existing residents instead of working to include them in the redevelopment processes.

Alexander’s comedy partner, Elizabeth Reindl, 23, recently graduated from Temple University with a degree in graphic design. She lives near Temple’s campus and noticed similar problems happening in that area.

“You want progress and you want things to get nicer but then there’s all those people that get left behind. I think you need to start with education and try to bring everybody up and get everybody to that level before you move forward,” Reindl said.

A Call For Government Support

Gregory Heller, the CEO of American Communities Trust, has over a decade of experience in community and economic development, real estate, planning and policy work. He has worked closely with Mayor Nutter on reform and discussed how to create a more seamless transition for neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.

“The biggest shortcoming I see in Philadelphia is that we have a very weak leadership in the business sector. I blame the mayor for that in part because somebody needs to be getting these folks together and say that it’s their responsibility to step up and invest in our city,” Heller said.

In many other cities, large companies located in the area invest millions of dollars into neighborhood revitalization projects, he said. Philadelphia’s major corporations, such as Comcast and Wells Fargo, tend not to invest in civic projects, he said.

“They should be giving big multi-million dollar grants each year that are combined with matching donations from the William Penn Foundation to fund big civic projects in Philadelphia,” he said.

Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of the top ten big cities in the country. At the same time, Philadelphia has the highest rate of home ownership for low-income people.

If property values increase in a gentrifying neighborhood, low-income homeowners may permanently climb out of poverty through increasing equity. Focusing on supporting low-income homeowners is one of the best ways Heller sees Philadelphia moving forward. While there are programs in place to help low-income residents stay in their homes, many are unaware of the programs, he said.

The Low-Income/Hardship Payment Agreement offers multiple ways for long time homeowners to gain financial support when a neighborhood gentrifies and homes start to become unaffordable. The Longtime Owner Occupants Program offers property tax discounts.

Eligible low-income senior citizens may qualify for a Property Tax Freeze. This permanently freezes the homeowners property taxes until the time of sale or transfer so that they don’t suffer financial hardship from rapid tax increases.

“I think the city needs a legislative effort to strengthen these programs as much as they can and then a robust marketing effort to get the information about those programs out into neighborhoods that are starting to see rises in property taxes,” Heller said.

Heller said that every neighborhood in the city, including Belmont and Mantua, should have a team that would go door-to-door to disseminate this kind of information. Teams should also give property owners estimates of what their homes will be worth in the near future so that they can make a more informed decision when developers come knocking and ready to buy, Heller said.

As the city grows and neighborhoods change, the processes of gentrification can create uncomfortable tensions between existing residents and those trying to create cleaner and safer neighborhoods. Maybe there will never be a right answer, but, as history has shown, there are patterns. The patterns are complicated and the issues are different for everyone, but by looking back as Philadelphia looks forward, leaders, developers and citizens may find a way to restructure the restructuring process.

– Text and images by By Sarah Fry.

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Students break down “The Philadelphia Budget”

“It is important to know what is important to you when voting,” according to “The Philadelphia Budget,” a multimedia site created by the Photography Seminar class of 2015 from the Temple University Journalism Department.

budgetsite“The (upcoming mayoral primary) election will determine who drafts and proposes the budget,” according to the site, which explains that: “This will ultimately affect how money is spent within Philadelphia.”

The project identifies topics on which the candidates have stated positions, including education, poverty, crime and job growth, while the section of the site strive to answer the questions: “How Does the Budget Work?” and “Why Should You Care?

The “Affected Faces” section is also viewable as a book called “Money Talks.”