His goal: Build a better Point Breeze for all

Posted: November 07, 2012

IN RECENT WEEKS, there have been many questions surrounding my support for Bill 120755, part of the city's housing initiative to stabilize three neighborhoods, one of which is Point Breeze in South Philadelphia. It is a plan I endorse because it supports housing for everyone and, in so doing, will create strong and viable neighborhoods.

Opposition to the bill has been fueled by misinformation disseminated over the Internet by a handful of people who believe that all available land in Point Breeze should be sold to the highest bidder and used to build houses that sell for in excess of $250,000. Their rationale is that the lots are eyesores, that they have money to buy them and should be able to do so and build and sell homes as they wish.

As the city councilman and a lifelong resident of Point Breeze, I welcome new development, and I look forward to the day when Point Breeze thrives again. However, I also believe that, as the neighborhood changes, the approach to rebuilding it must include those who live in Point Breeze already, those who have moved in recently and those who may want to move here in the future. This is why I support the initiative to create affordable housing in the area.

Here is why I think you should too: By creating neighborhoods that have housing for people of different income levels, we build viable communities with a stronger tax base, allowing us to better support our schools, parks, police, fire and other city needs. In addition, we eliminate situations in which the poorest and most vulnerable citizens are concentrated and isolated in communities and geographical areas that do not thrive. Further, no money will be taken away from parks and recreation centers, libraries or teachers, as has been suggested by a petition that has been circulated in opposition to the bill, because the funds targeted for the housing initiative are restricted for neighborhood revitalization by law.

Although Point Breeze has garnered most of the attention lately, the plan to build affordable housing also includes Mantua and Nicetown. All three neighborhoods were chosen when the city applied for federal stimulus funds in 2008 and 2009. One of the criteria set by the federal government for picking neighborhoods was that the areas contain high numbers of vacant, blighted lots and properties in foreclosure.

Proposals to build the homes will be sought in early 2013. The houses will be similar to the market-rate housing around them that are selling for $250,000 to $300,000. However, the financing for the homes will be such that those who meet income and other guidelines will be able to purchase them at a more affordable price.

The 19 privately owned properties being sought by the city represent only a fraction of the 1,000 lots owned by private citizens There are $50,764 in back taxes owed on the properties, and they have liens against them totaling $169,460. Further, none of the owners has indicated that he plans to develop the properties in the near future.

People have asked why the city can't develop on the land that it already owns. Most of the 311 city-owned properties lie outside the section of Point Breeze that is appreciating in value so affordability is not an issue.

My office will continue to work with developers to bring viable projects to the Point Breeze community, but there must be balance and a level of fairness in the process.

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