Time to Get Back to Work! Forging a Progressive Philadelphia Policy Agenda

Well, it's been a fun few weeks for political geeks. The primary election has brought new people into the progressive electoral fold, and here at YoungPhillyPolitics, we're pleased to welcome many new readers and contributors (and, we had a kick-ass happy hour, if I do say so myself).

For those of you who are new here (or those who have been around, but are easily distracted) I wanted to remind folks that as much fun as electoral politics is, YPP is just as much a place for young Philadelphia progressives to come together and move new policy ideas forward, as it is a place to talk about winning elections.

As we head into the fall election, where we will beat Rick Santorum and maybe even take back some Republican House seats, we need to beef up our progressive policy perspective. It's not enough to elect people because we like them and because they self-select as "progressives" by virtue of membership in one of our groups. There should, after all, be objective standards for "progressive" policy ideas and practices.

So, I want to kick off a discussion about progressive policy standards by pointing to a column in the Daily News by Earni Young (thanks ACM!) about the need for inclusionary zoning.

What is inclusionary zoning? Click read more below to find out.

According to Wikkipedia, inclusionary zoning is:

Inclusionary zoning, also know as inclusionary housing, refers to city planning ordinances that require a given share of new construction be affordable to people with low to moderate incomes. The term inclusionary zoning is derived from the fact that these ordinances seek to counter exclusionary zoning practices which to exclude affordable housing from a municipality through the zoning code. In practice, these policies involve placing deed restrictions on 10%-30% of new houses or apartments in order to make the costs of the housing affordable to lower income households. The mix of "affordable" and "market-rate" housing in the same neighborhood is seen as beneficial by many, especially in jurisdictions where housing shortages have become acute. Inclusionary zoning is becoming a common tool for local municipalities in the United States to help provide a wider range of housing options than the market provides on its own.

Earni Young of the DN argues that:

Philadelphia may be more of a boomlet than boomtowns like Washington, New York City or Miami, but our housing market is showing more staying power than those more-explosive markets. More than 6,000 housing units have been delivered since 2000 and another 10,000 are in the pipeline.

And Ali Kronley of ACORN (who obviously agrees) is a part of a campaign to enact inclusionary zoning with a 25 percent set aside or cash payments into an affordable housing fund. Ali said this to the DN:

We don't want to stop the development, but we believe the tremendous wealth that is being generated by Philadelphia's luxury housing boom needs to be distributed fairly so that all Philadelphians can reap the benefits

Now some of you may have noticed that when I speak of the progressive community in Philadelphia, I put it in quotes (like this: "progressive community"). Why, you might ask, do I do that?

Well, I think that we have not yet forged a common definition for "progressive" in this city. Neighborhood Networks and OnePhiladelphia have probably worked the hardest to define "progressive," but none of the typical, white liberal activist groups (my own, Philadelphians Against Santorum included) has really gotten all of its members to come to consensus on “progressive” in name and in action.

The result is that many so-called progressives hate organized labor, don't care about taking money out of politics, love tax reform, and don't get identity politics--especially around race and class.

The issue above, inclusionary zoning, lies at the intersection of just about everything that is happening in Philadelphia politics right now, and how the "progressive" community reacts is important.

Economic development policy in Philadelphia is often done in the dark, and an effort to implement inclsuionary zoning is going to freak out some of the white liberal, condo-buying, mocha swigging folks who think the continuance of ten-year tax abatements and the elimination of the BPT would be god's gift to Philadelphia. This reaction means that it's entirely possible that people that one group of people who calls themselves "progressive" could end up fighting bitterly with another group who claims rights to the same label.

As you can probably tell, I think inclusionary zoning is a great idea, and it is an issue I would love to see front and center in upcoming mayor and Council races. Progressives--especially white, middle-class progressives--need to figure out how to promote inclusionary zoning to their own peer groups and then also figure out how to be strong allies to low-income-led efforts to make it happen.

And, if you aren't down with inclusionary zoning, I'd go so far as to say that you--horror--just don't meet an objective definition of progressive.

That all being said- the fact that the DN is identifying Councilman Clarke has a possible sponsor of this bill means that anti-Street folks are going to have to reassess their views of Street and his faction if they end up fighting on our behalf against a Verna-faction if they chose to fight inclusionary zoning. No matter what you think of Street, he has fought harder for economic justice than Nutter/Verna folks, and this really could be their marquee issue in the last year of their active session.

What do you think?

A Better Philadelphia

I have been thinking what Ray just posted for quite some time. The fact that Philadelphia has a city government that is controlled by at least a nominally liberal council but yet doesn’t take much a lead on traditionally liberal policies is troubling to most people on this blog (I would think).

Inclusionary zoning is just one of a laundry list of policies our City Council can’t figure out how to implement. Los Angeles is implementing a city-wide prescription drug plan for seniors who can’t afford them and have kicked all lobbyists off city boards and commissions. By mandating higher energy efficiency, changing their public mass transit fleet to hybrids and requiring public utilities to use renewable sources, Salt Lake City will be meeting the Kyoto Protocol. Chicago is working to be recognized as the greenest city. San Francisco has instant run-off elections giving a voice to a greater portion of the city. New Haven now has 100% publicly financed elections. In Philadelphia, I’m still trying to figure out why we can’t recycle plastic.

My point is in addition to working towards the election of solid progressive candidates, we need to actually work towards progressive policies. This is the sole reason I ran for a committee seat in my ward. There are apparently many of us throughout the city that now have a seat at the table; I don’t think we should be shy about using them.

Maybe inclusionary zoning (can we say affordable housing?) could be one of the first issues that is tackled at the municipal level. (Personally I’m still really ticked about the plastic thing.) We definitely need to continue working every November and May to elect true progressives, but as a community, we should be focusing our efforts on some real progressive policies. After all, our goal is for a better Philadelphia, not for a Philadelphia controlled by better people.

responsible development and zoning reform

On Tuesday, May 22nd, over 100 people gathered for the first Forum on Responsible Development & Zoning Reform. For the 1st time, people who study this stuff for a living met with nearly 100 ordinary people from neighborhoods across the city to discuss urban planning and its role in comprehensive reform in Philadelphia.

The issues that I (along with many others) placed on the agenda included:

--Form a comprehensive urban plan for Philadelphia, its waterfronts and its neighborhoods
--Create a development process that is transparent and open to public scrutiny
--Design a development/zoning process that is standardized, predictable and universal
--Redraft the zoning code to reflect modern practicalities
--Reform the permitting process to ensure efficiency
--Remove politics from the development process and replace it with mandatory community input
--Require full disclosure of campaign contributions from zoning variance applicants
--Create a mechanism and process to levy community impact fees that are invested in our neighborhoods
--Develop an Inclusive Zoning policy that ensures working and middle class families can experience home ownership

Of all of these, nothing is more powerful than Inclusive Zoning Policies. I have met with leaders in San Francisco and Boston who do this for a living and they tell me Philadelphia is ripe for inclusive zoning to ensure our kids who become school teachers and police officers and firefighters can afford to buy homes in solid Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Inclusive Zoning will certainly be at the the center of my campaign agenda and my legislative agenda if I am given the honor of being elected to serve in 2007.

During our debate, the ZBA chair called inclusive zoning "a shake down" when I mentioned it Monday night, but a large majority of folks believe we need to build a city where working and middle class people can continue to afford homes in good communities.

I truly believe we are about to set the stage for the agenda for 2007 municipal elections by raising the level of discourse on development and zoning reform.

Our next forum is scheduled for July 17th and it will be unlike anything I have ever done before--and I hope it continues to bring out committed, ordinary, dedicated folks who love this City and want to have a hand in determining the destiny of our neighborhoods.

Time will tell just how progressive of an agenda we can embrace-- but I certainly feel good about what is about to happen.

Reform is truly on the way.


Two things:

"No matter what you think of Street, he has fought harder for economic justice than Nutter/Verna folks". Really? Can you give some examples? The fifth district that he represented suffered tremendously during his tenure.

Also, never heard of the "Nutter/Verna folks" before, is that a new political faction?

I feel the same way.

I feel the same way.

Supporting a Citywide Zoning Vision

As the new development of condos in Center City, the faux suburban mixed-income public housing near Temple, and the cul-de-sacs on the edges of Northeast Philadelphia and Roxborough, (not to mention the gambling fiascos along the Delaware and in East Falls) all illustrate, city leaders have presented no real vision for what our city should look like in fifteen or twenty years. Developers solicit individual permits from our City Council leaders leading to all kinds of hair-brained projects.

I’d be a little worried though that an inclusionary zoning policy such as the one mentioned in the article may not actually benefit low-income individuals in the short run or in the long run. I don’t know anything about how individuals are selected to be the seven lucky ones to move into the development that the article mentions. Are the units designed differently than others in the development? Do they have real estate tax breaks so that as the value of the housing rises, the individuals are not forced out? Are the benefits to the seven families worth the cost to the city of the tax loss on the transfer tax income from the purchase and the presumably lower real estate taxes? When the original owner sells the property, who is going to buy it…yuppies like those that actually purchased most of the properties in the first place? If so, it’s not promoting the long-term economic integration Philadelphia needs even if it’s providing some low-income individuals with a one time asset boost.

A one size fits all policy doesn’t necessarily promote the best kind of affordable housing in the long run—neighborhoods with buildings and homes of all types and sizes. An inclusionary zoning policy that called for mixed housing types might be worth a shot.

No matter what, given that Mayor Street is pushing though (only the beginnings hopefully of the) sorely needed overhaul of the city’s housing agencies, that there are thousands of vacant homes in the city sitting on the books with no prospect of being improved since they can only be sold to approved nonprofit CDCs that lack capacity and funding and that a good long-term strategic plan has the potential to strengthen our communities internal support systems and make them more environmentally friendly way beyond any amount of funding for social services, working to improving our city’s zoning regulations would be a really smart move.

Street's record on economic justice...

While I disagree with some of Street's decisions, examples of his record that support "just" economic development include his defense of city services serving poorer residents on everything from health clinics to afterschool programs, his general decision to side with the trade unions and his supporting--the formation of the SRC even if it may have been because he had no other options--to try and improve city schools.

The Nutter/Verna fraction consist of the 6 to 9 members of council that generally oppose Street. It usually includes Tasco and Kennedy. Other people like Blackwell, Clarke, (former councilman Cohen) and Mariano all often side with Street on his initiatives.

I'd disagree that the 5th distict has been ill-served by Street and his protege Clarke. Fairmount has has a renaissance even if that has little to do with Street. Temple surrounds have improved rapidly and there are numerous relatively newer lower and mixed income housing developments in N. Philly. (Note that this trend started before Street became Mayor but he strong armed some of Temple's development decisions to make sure the neighborhood got what he considered the necessary attention.) Lastly, Clarke and Blackwell got the most spending in their districts by far out of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative Bonds. I don't remember the exact number but there was easily an 8 to 1 disparity if not 100 to 1 between the funding that went to the friends of Street (including Clarke in the 5th District) and the members of council that often disagree with Street on how to improve the city.

To get back to Ray's point: Post Better Zoning Ideas

What do the rest of you say? What is one recommendation that you would make to improving how we develop our neighborhoods?

Improve our parks? I'd like to see more of them...Logan Triangle along the Bvld. would be a much better and safer as a park than any thing else.

Oh and my favorite: Fine owners of vacant buildings substantially because sealing them up is not enough. A building that is vacant for three years should be put up for auction (yeah, the owner can have the proceeds after costs, taxes and liens are paid) but is not entitled to anything else. Adding them to city owned housing stock just allows them to sit vacant longer.

The affordable housing movement!

So folks - let's do this!!
How do we make this happen?

This, to me, is the #1 thing that we have to do in Philly right now. It is the most basic issue, and shows most directly and clearly how we as a city value human beings.

Politically, we have a tremendous opportunity right now to build a movement around this, because of the property tax panic. So - who would write a bill about this? Can we solicit proposals from the mayoral/council candidates? Who is already working on this, and how can we help them?



The one eyesore problem

As a long time rehabber in Germantown, it has been my pleasure to see this string of ideas about affordable housing. The issue that bothers me right now is the one run down property on the block that just sits there, haunting what everyone else is trying to achieve. That one owner who doesn't have the money or the time to keep the property looking as if it could be occupied. I'm talking about broken or missing windows, pigeons flying in and out that sort of thing. If they can't keep it up then it should be taken from them. I know there has been an open debate about eminent domain and I can see how the line between taste and responsibility is a fine one, but this zoning code must come with a basic minimum of upkeep. If the property was taken and given to an organization that provides affordable housing maybe the eminent domain issue would become some what more palpable.

Secondly, any time you talk about affordable housing you have to seriously consider multifamily housing. The idea that one unit subsidizes one or two units is a very powerful one. It's a part-time job that can be very easily handled on off hours, weekends or vacations. A one bedroom unit on the first floor with a three bedroom on the second and third floor is a great configuration for today's lifestyle. As our population ages we will increasingly need one bedroom apartments that are accessible both inside and out, where the older occupant has someone around to check on them and fix this little thing and that, but still feels that sense of freedom. In exchange that older person will be subsidizing the single mom with a few kids, or the young couple just trying to get started. Its a win-win for both parties and it creates new market rate subsidized housing. Ten years ago the idea of being a landlord or owning property wasn't on most peoples radar screen, but in the last five or so it seems like everyone wants to be Trump. I believe that it's one of the most important ideas to come along in our economy in a long time and it should be embraced. Let's get the zoning code to reflect the fact multi-family housing has just as important a role in our communities as does single family homes. Instead of focusing on just affordable housing lets try to think of ways that the zoning code can promote "AFFORDABLE LIVING"

If you are going to do this, it has to be done right

Inclusionary zoning works best when it is coupled with developer incentives. I know many on here will jump at any idea of incentives, but we must allow the requirements to be flexible enough that private development can occur during an economic downturn. While the economy, particularly the housing market is hot, including a segment of affordable housing is not that great a deal because the money used can be spread to other homeowners and buyers. But, when the market is soft, to pass that cost along would prevent developers from building. They would have to absorb the entire cost. It would be a tax on development, which will stifle the new housing market.

Honestly, I believe that this can work, but it has to be done right. There is a business community to think about too. I would just hate to alienate the people actually building in this city. So, I say we do this once, and responsibly. As you can see, I am a consenus builder.

Another issue: would inclusionary include just new construction? What about re-habs of old structures?

Totally Agree

I can give my parents house in Germantown as an example: They live on a middle class block, with mostly twins. They, and most of their neighbors really work hard on their homes. It is a beautiful block. Yet their connecting twin is owned by a rich eccentric guy who only comes there once every ten years, and who is literally letting the house fall apart. Weeds grow everywhere, the roof had a huge hole with water pouring in at one point, and the house is basically falling apart. People come to my parents house, and ask about buying it. But, the owner refuses to sell, and instead watches it rot, potentially taking their house down with it.

Across the street, our neighbor literally had her connecting twin faling down, before L&I finally condemned it and got rid of it.

We need a law to deal with people who will not/can not keep their homes from crumbling.


Rehabs actually present the best opportunity for affordable housing in pricy areas. This is particularly true in Center City, where no one can turn out a condo refit fast enough, and public service employees like teachers, firefighters, and policemen are forced out.

Incentives are definitely the best way to go. Like the new Falls Ridge development, this process is already underway. Allowing developers easy access or a reduced price to City owned property in exchange for a mixture of market rent units with affordable housing is a sustainable model that is proven in other cities. San Jose, for instance, a community with some of the highest property values in the country, was able to create affordable housing for teachers through development incentives. Santa Clara, CA, Arkansas, and Naples, FL have all followed suit.

Though this is only getting started here, it provides the most efficient use of vacant buildings, fallow lots, and unused City land, while not stifling development.

Let's do it!

Maybe this group work on a bill. I think among this group we can really make things happen. I'm a decent drafter and have a legal background. Dare I say a meeting should be held to see how this can work?


i'm glad people are psyched, but as I mentined in the original post a bill is already in the works and ACORN, the low-income community organizing group, has already convened a number of meetings and a coalition. I will get more info about next meetings--our job here is to sell this idea to our friends, family and neighbors and support the work alrwady under way. More details to come...

i was just getting excited

...i just have wanted to work on affordable housing for years, and it seems like this is the first time where i've ever heard people talking about it! so fantastic!

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