Last month, we first brought a government land grab in the Point Breeze neighborhood to your attention, detailing the City’s plans to seize thirty-one privately owned lots by eminent domain with the intention of constructing affordable housing units, despite no construction or financing plans in place. Reaction to this story has been overwhelming, with over nine-hundred people signing a petition to state their opposition to this wrongheaded proposal.

Affordable housing

Last week, district councilman Kenyatta Johnson penned an editorial in the Inquirer explaining this plan with the headline ‘His plan: Build a Better Point Breeze for All.’ In this missive, Johnson states that 1) “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,” that 2) “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,” and that 3) “[his] 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.”

Let’s address these quotes one by one.

1) Misinformation? C’mon Councilman! This isn’t an issue of developer greed, market forces, or the desirability of affordable housing. This is an issue of the City forcibly taking privately owned land without a clear plan. And without the necessary funds to construct thirty-one homes.

By our calculations, they have the funding to build about seven in the next year. That’s a pretty big gap to fill in a time when the City’s budget is stretched thin and cash can’t be expected to arrive from the Federal government with any predictability. And let’s not forget that several of the affordable housing units recently constructed by Community Ventures are priced at $225K.

City lots and affordable housing units between Washington Ave. and Wharton St. Image from JakeL

2) This is true. But what about all the land the City already owns in the so-called area that’s appreciating in value? According to an analysis performed by JakeL on Philadelphia Speaks, the City already owns 68 properties in this area. And they need another thirty? For what?

And this doesn’t include the dozens of additional vacant parcels that the City owns between Wharton and Reed Streets! Show us a plan to develop the dozens of parcels you already own before clamoring for additional lots that will undoubtedly remain vacant for years to come while funds are found to develop them. The one thing that nobody wants to see is blight perpetuated unnecessarily.

3) How is the process balanced or fair when the City is taking privately owned lots when it already has so many in the area??? How is it fair to people who have lived in this community for six months or sixty years that the City acts as a poor steward for vacant land but seems to want more? Shouldn’t the community act as a counterbalance and respond to this unreasonable and poorly conceived plan?

Three lots the City wants

If you wish to publicly state your opposition (or support, whatever you like) to Bill 120755, it is scheduled for a City Council hearing on Tuesday at City Hall, at 10AM. If you live in the neighborhood and want to be heard, please make time to make an appearance. Do your part and share your opinion. And hopefully, this awful bill will appropriately be put to rest.