Posts by Author: Jared Brey

Finding a Consensus around Historic Preservation in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, the facade of the former American Railway Express Company Garage had to be preserved in its redevelopment into affordable housing and commercial space. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

In the last half-decade, advocates in Philadelphia have built some momentum around the idea that the 336-year-old city is facing a crisis of historic preservation. The underfunded Historical Commission can’t keep up with the volume of historic buildings that need protection, they’ve argued, while a hot real estate market and a set of perverse incentives are pushing developers to demolish more and more neighborhood assets.

Last April, in recognition of those issues, Mayor Jim Kenney appointed a 33-member Historic Preservation Task Force, charged with reviewing how the city approaches preservation to create a better balance with new development. Today, the task force meets for the last time, to review and approve a draft of its final report, containing dozens of recommendations for improving preservation in the city. Harris Steinberg, executive director of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University and chair of the task force, says he hopes the group will approve the report by consensus, without needing to vote.

“I really wanted this to be a consensus document,” Steinberg told reporters in a briefing earlier this week. “I didn’t want there to be any minority opinions.”

Consensus was an ambitious goal given the range of interests represented on the task force, which included real estate developers and lawyers, elected officials, archaeologists, community representatives, professors, and preservation advocates. But it may be an easier lift given that the task force’s recommendations are just that — policy recommendations, with no legal power or even draft legislation to implement them. After the report is delivered, Steinberg says, it’s up to the city, the preservation community, and the public to push ahead with its goals.

The recommendations fall into four categories: Surveying historic resources, creating incentives for preservation, regulating preservation outcomes, and public outreach and education. Some of them, if enacted, could have significant impacts on development and preservation practices in the city.

In Philadelphia, only properties that are listed on the local Register of Historic Places are eligible for special protections from demolition and other physical changes. But only around two percent of the city’s building stock is protected — substantially less than some peer cities — which leaves many qualified buildings unprotected.

One of the task force’s key recommendations is to create an index of properties that would likely be eligible for historic designation and to provide for an expedited historic review process if a demolition permit is pulled for any of those properties. The recommendation would allow communities an opportunity to protect buildings that are historic but not currently listed on the local register. It is a twist on a full “demolition review” process that some advocates have been hoping for, which would require a Historical Commission review of any property older than 50 years that a developer is planning to demolish. (The more rigorous version of the policy is in place in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the U.S., according to the report.) Dominique Hawkins, founder of the Preservation Design Partnership and co-chair of the task force, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that creating the index could require the city to contract out some of the survey work to consultants.

To incentivize preservation and adaptive reuse, the task force recommends a number of strategies: Changing the tax assessment formula to account for historic designation, accelerating permit speed for rehab work on historic buildings, reducing or eliminating parking requirements on historic properties, allowing income-producing accessory dwelling units on historic properties to reduce the burden of maintenance, and making zoning changes to permit a wider range of uses on historic properties by right, to make reuse easier. It also recommends creating a zoning bonus specifically for historic preservation, and tweaking the city’s 10-year property tax abatement to reduce the incentive to tear down historic buildings.

Many advocates have noted that the city’s zoning is not always in line with its stated interests in historic preservation. In one prominent case, a developer sought to tear down an iconic row of jewelry storefronts to build an apartment tower—a plan that was theoretically allowed because of the permissive zoning on the property and the fact that the buildings were not listed on the historic register. One of the overarching recommendations in the task force’s report is to align all of the city agencies that regulate the built environment behind historic preservation and to correlate zoning to meet historic preservation goals.

When Kenney appointed the task force last April, he noted, “Our historic preservation ordinance is more than 30 years old and was written when Philadelphia was a very different place. We need to look at preservation for a city that is adding people and jobs, while still keeping in mind the resource constraints we face.”

But Steinberg and Hawkins say the 18-month task force process has shown them that the city’s historic preservation ordinance itself is among the strongest in the country. The legal framework for protecting more of the city’s historic assets is there, they say. The report gives the city “a richer basket of options” for making preservation more effective. But ultimately it’s a matter of political will. The task force will accept public comment on the draft for one month before delivering its final recommendations to the mayor. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

“The political class is only going to move if the citizenry wants it,” Steinberg says.

 

A ‘Fair Workweek’ Victory for Worker Solidarity in Philadelphia

Advocates gave members of Philadelphia City Council bread and roses in support of fair workweek legislation. (Photo by Jared Brey)

Anyone who has worked a service-industry job has stories about being jerked around by the boss. Vanessa Sanders has plenty of stories from working in hotels for 20 years. Last week, at a press conference with other labor leaders, she recalled one job in particular where a manager needed to call her into work, but couldn’t get her on the phone.

“So what she did was use the emergency contact number that I provided, which is supposed to be used if I have an asthma attack or maybe have a stroke or something on the job,” Sanders said. “She got my mother, and what she did was she told my mother, ‘I’m looking for your daughter. She needs to come to work. You need to get her here.’”

Sanders is an organizer with the Philadelphia restaurant and hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 274. “It was so disrespectful,” she continued. “I was really, really upset about it because she extended the disrespect that she performs on the job to my mother. That made me really upset, because they have this sense of control, that they need to control our lives and control our time.”

Last Thursday, workers in Philadelphia clawed back some measure of control with the passage of “Fair Workweek” legislation in city council. The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Helen Gym, requires managers to post schedules two weeks in advance, pay workers for shifts that are canceled or changed at the last minute, and offer more hours to part-time employees before hiring outside applicants. The bill passed 14-3, with all of the city council’s Democrats voting in favor and all of the Republicans voting against. Hundreds of advocates packed into the council chambers, and when the votes were tallied, the room erupted into applause.

“We can talk about poverty in this city until we’re blue in the face, or we can do something about it,” Gym said before voting. “Today, we choose to do something.”

Gym introduced the bill in June, adding Philadelphia to the list of cities that have considered some version of the law, as Next City reported. Philadelphia’s law will apply to chain restaurants, hotels, and retailers—businesses with at least 250 employees and 30 locations globally. According to Gym’s office, around 130,000 Philadelphians could benefit from the new regulations. As recently as last week, a lobbying firm working on behalf of business groups was pushing to have the legislation amended to limit some of its provisions, according to email messages reviewed by Next City. But Gym said the final version of the bill included amendments negotiated with businesses and labor unions. And she thanked the coalition of advocates that kept the pressure up in the weeks before the final vote.

The coalition was diverse. It included traditional labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, which hosted a press conference in support of the bill last week before the vote, as well as socialist groups, faith groups, and economists. Not all of the groups that advocated would see direct benefits for their members.

“For us as a union obviously what we want is to make sure that people have just working conditions,” says Steve Newman, a Temple University English professor and president of the Temple Association of University Professionals. “But it’s a particular interest for us because, first of all, a lot of our students are among that 130,000 who fall behind in their work or drop out of Temple entirely because for some reason [managers] can’t give them a dependable schedule. And then also, of course, over half of our bargaining unit are adjuncts and so they feel in their own way what it means to not have a predictable work schedule.”

In addition to Philadelphia, “Fair Workweek” laws have been adopted in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, the small city of Emeryville in California, and the state of Oregon. The laws applied to some 327,000 retail and fast food workers across the United States even without Philadelphia’s legislation, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute that Next City reported on in July. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney appeared with labor leaders at the AFL-CIO press conference last week and said he would sign the bill.

In a speech before the vote, Gym said the legislation was “a floor, not a ceiling.” She and other advocates hope the fair workweek trend continues to grow around the country. And they hope that the coalition that brought it forth in Philadelphia will win more progressive victories in the years to come.

“All people who labor have to stand together for what’s right,” Newman says. “The signal that it sends is that workers deserve dignity. Workers deserve justice. It doesn’t matter if they’re working at a Macy’s or at a hotel or in a kitchen or at a university. There are differences in that work, of course, but all workers should have dignity and justice afforded to them. You shouldn’t have to ask for those things. They should just be there.”

 

Seattle’s Population is Booming, Except for Where It’s Shrinking

In this Dec. 13, 2017, photo, a man walks dogs through a single-family neighborhood dotted with bungalows and stately Craftsman homes in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Since 2010, Seattle has added more than 100,000 new residents — but you may not be able to tell by looking around at the housing stock in most of the city.

According to a report from the Seattle Planning Commission released this week, nearly all of those residents have been absorbed into areas zoned for multifamily living, including the mixed-use “Urban Villages” that the city has targeted for increased density over the past few years. Meanwhile, areas zoned for single-family living, which cover the vast majority of land in Seattle, have welcomed hardly any additional residents during this growth phase.

In fact, according to the planning commission report, some single-family neighborhoods have even lost population over the last few years. As a result, the report notes, the benefits and burdens of growth have been unequally distributed, and the city won’t be able to address that imbalance without making changes to the ways that housing is regulated in single-family neighborhoods.

As affordability challenges have become more pitched across the country, many advocates have pushed cities to upzone land and create more space for multifamily living, in hopes that a greater supply of housing will bring rents down. But the Seattle Planning Commission’s report, “Neighborhoods for All: Expanding Housing Opportunity in Seattle’s Single-Family Zones,” takes a slightly different focus.

Rather than rezoning single-family areas to create apartment towers, the report focuses on a range of strategies to permit more people in the many neighborhoods that are currently built out with two- and three-story homes without drastically altering the built form of those neighborhoods. And, as so much opposition to densification is based on “neighborhood character,” the report notes that the character of many single-family neighborhoods is already changing: Homes are getting larger, even as household sizes are shrinking.

“Change is inevitable and change is happening,” says Tim Parham, chair of the Seattle Planning Commission. “People are building three-story, single-family houses right now next to the cute 1940s and ‘50s Craftsman, but only one family is living [in the larger homes]. We’re saying: Wouldn’t it be great if that big modern box of three stories at least accommodated three families instead of just one so that more people could have access to all the reasons why you like your neighborhood?”

The report notes that housing in single-family zones is becoming more expensive across the city, that the range of housing types is constrained in those areas, that single-family zoning doesn’t work for residents of certain ages, and that the city’s current zoning doesn’t promote equity along the lines of race and income. Additionally, it says, many of the city’s best-loved single-family neighborhoods were built in the early part of the 20th century, before many of the modern regulations related to minimum lot sizes and commercial uses went into place.

Many of the strategies recommended in the report are intended to recreate the environment that allowed those neighborhoods to develop in the first place. Among them: Allowing more units per building on corner lots and at the edges of single-family zones, removing the limits on unrelated people living together in single-family areas, and allowing more compact development and a greater range of housing types. To reflect a different approach, the report also recommends changing the name from “single-family” to “neighborhood residential” zoning.

It’s not the first time the city has tried to push changes to its single-family zoning regulations. In 2015, the city was wrapping up an effort to create a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda that included, among 64 other recommendations, changes to citywide zoning regulations in residential areas like those included in the report released earlier this week. A copy of the draft agenda was leaked to a Seattle Times columnist, who ran a story suggesting that the city was planning to “get rid of single-family zoning.” That leak created a backlash in Seattle neighborhoods, and then-Mayor Ed Murray quickly backed off that part of the agenda. Parham says that leak stalled the conversation about these changes, and that the Planning Commission is now trying to kickstart them again.

“I was thrilled to hear that [the Planning Commission] had taken up this issue,” says Faith Li Pettis, a lawyer who served as co-chair of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda task force and is now a member of the group Seattle for Everyone. “It was one of the unsung recommendations of [the agenda] that didn’t go anywhere, and I think personally it’s one of the most important recommendations.”

One of the most controversial elements of the recommendations of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda was that they framed single-family zoning as an outgrowth of racially exclusionary policies of the past, from redlining to further changes in the mid-20th century, Pettis says. Some people in single-family neighborhoods felt they were being labeled racists because of where they chose to live, both Pettis and Parham say. But even though the city didn’t move forward on those zoning changes after the agenda came out, Pettis says they sparked an important conversation.

“I think that [the agenda] did a huge service to the city by touching that third rail of single-family zones and not getting completely electrocuted,” Pettis says.

In any event, Parham agrees that many of the regulations in single-family zoning grew out of segregationist policies, and serve to perpetuate segregation today.

The Seattle Planning Commission doesn’t have the power to formally introduce legislation or approve zoning changes, but Parham says that’s sometimes an advantage. In this instance, for example, the commission is able to release a report pushing for changes it sees as important without making sure it’s approved at every political level first. When the single-family recommendations were leaked as part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the city was back-footed, Parham says. He hopes the new report can serve as a better reference for policy conversations from now on.

“The way we have the city is zoned now is perpetuating racial inequity as well as income inequity,” Parham says. “We have a lot of data to back that up.”

 

Can Zoning Bring More Equitable Growth to Miami?

Construction continues on a high-rise condominium project in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Miami has always been friendly to real estate developers. But in the last decade, even as the likely consequences of sea-level rise become clearer by the day, the city has really rolled out the welcome mat, says Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell. ​

“In the crash after 2008 and 2009, the city was trying to get back on its feet and it really opened the floodgates for development to generate tax base,” says Russell, who represents District 2 on Miami City Council. “Because we don’t have a personal income tax and we don’t have a state income tax, the city’s tax base is built on real estate.”

New construction in Miami skews toward the luxury condo end of the market. And the city’s existing housing stock has become a favorite investment vehicle for foreign investors, including some people looking to use property transactions to launder money, as Next City has reported. So real estate values have risen, and working people have been pushed further and further away from the downtown areas where most of the service-industry jobs are.

Giving those residents a place to live downtown would be “a huge change,” Russell says. Which is why he’s pushing the city to adopt its first inclusionary zoning policy, requiring developers to build affordable units alongside market-rate developments in a certain part of downtown Miami in exchange for more generous zoning standards. The policy, which will go up for final approval by the City Commissioners later this month, would apply to an unbuilt area of downtown Miami that’s adjacent to luxury real estate, Russell says. He’s hoping the policy will get ahead of demand and create the right mix of incentives — primarily in the form of additional floor area — for developers to want to build there even with affordability requirements in place.

“Affordability has been so complicated that very few players have gotten involved in the affordable housing market, because it involves HUD dollars and tax incentives and everything,” Russell says. “So we’re trying to find a way to bring market-rate developers into this world — and not kicking and screaming.”

It’s the first time Miami has come this close to passing a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance in the city, but policies like it have spread across the country over the last several years. Last fall, as Next City reported, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Grounded Solutions Network released a report looking at more than 1,300 inclusionary housing programs across the U.S. Of those policies, the most popular incentives were additional density in exchange for affordable units, the report said. Inclusionary zoning has continued to spread since the report was released; as a recent example, New Orleans has been trying to work out the kinks of its own inclusionary policy.

“I’m not sure there’s a huge change in the trends of how the policies are crafted,” says Stephanie Reyes, state and local policy manager for Grounded Solutions. “More places are starting to look at tailoring their policies based on market strengths, having varied requirements or multiple options.”

Miami’s proposed policy does just that. The affordability requirements in the ordinance are tiered: The lower the rent on the affordable units that developers choose to build, the fewer affordable units they’ll be required to include.

“Most of the initial [developments] are going to target the higher end of affordability, which is the workforce level,” Russell predicts.

And the city isn’t alone in targeting a policy to a specific part of town, says Reyes.

“It’s not uncommon for cities to start a program in only their strongest area or areas and later it expand it to other areas of the city,” she says.

One common criticism of inclusionary zoning policies is that they don’t work at a great enough scale to meaningfully address most cities’ affordable housing shortage. The same would likely be true in Miami. Squeezing a small number units out of otherwise market-rate developments won’t solve the city’s housing problems. (Read a good primer on Miami’s housing needs here, including a discussion on the ineffectiveness of a voluntary county-wide policy.) But then, no single policy will do that, says Reyes.

“[Inclusionary zoning] is a super-useful tool in the toolbox,” she says, “and when you get a couple hundred units a year adding up over years, that can really add up.”

Another common argument is that mandatory inclusionary zoning policies can depress the housing market overall if developers decide it isn’t worth it to build because of the affordability requirements. In Portland, for example, arguments are still playing out over what impact a recent inclusionary law has had on development in the city, as Next City has covered. Russell says the level of need for affordable housing in Miami convinced him that the policy had to be mandatory rather than voluntary. But he believes the policy is balanced enough that it can convert some demand for downtown development into affordable units for working Miamians.

“You have to incentivize the behavior you want,” Russell says. “You can’t expect a developer to be socially responsible out of the goodness of their heart.”

 

Can this Google Deal Succeed Where HQ2 Failed?

Diridon Station, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

When Amazon announced earlier this month that it had selected Long Island City in New York and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, as the two new locations for its east coast headquarters, it brought to an end more than a year of conjecture about what kinds of amenities the tech giant would prioritize in a new host city. Even as the HQ2 bonanza fades, though, the era of the tech industry mega-development is still very much upon us.

Next week, in San Jose, the city council is expected to vote on the sale of public land to Google, the first in a series of approvals needed for a proposed development that could transform the area around Diridon Station, a central transit hub in the heart of the largest city in Silicon Valley. But where the Amazon deal was notable for the massive tax incentives the company secured largely in secret from its new host cities — and the even-more-lavish promises from dozens of runners-up — San Jose is hoping for a different dynamic.

“Through the Diridon Station Area Process, San José and Google have provided a model that stands in stark contrast to the process followed by Amazon and other corporations who have sought large subsidies and presents a better model for the relationship between cities and tech employers,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a press release announcing a preliminary agreement with Google earlier this month. “We won’t use our taxpayers’ dollars as bait. Instead, we’re working together with the community and Google to develop a mutually beneficial path that delivers far better value to the residents we serve.”

In announcing a memorandum of understanding with Google, Liccardo and other members of the city council said they would push for a negotiated community benefits agreement, a downtown financing district to help fund transit amenities and other public-realm improvements, and a policy requiring that 25 percent of all new housing in the area be leased at reduced rates. The final package of community benefits will be negotiated after the land sale is approved and before the city approves zoning and other changes to move the project forward.

For Silicon Valley Rising, which has been leading a campaign to make sure the Google development produces opportunities for community residents rather than gentrification and displacement, the announcement of the MOU is a good sign. But the real substance of the agreement remains to be seen.

“What I’m happy about is that we’ve spent the last 18 months trying to get the city and Google to talk about benefits, and it looks like this is finally happening,” says Maria Noel Fernandez, the deputy director of Working Partnerships USA, which coordinates the Silicon Valley Rising campaign. “It’s a step in the right direction in terms of what they put out, but we still don’t know the details.”

In the weeks before the mayor announced the MOU with Google, Fernandez’s group and another nonprofit sued the city over what they claimed were improperly secret negotiations between city officials and Google over the details of the deal, according to reports. In addition to affordable housing, Silicon Valley Rising wants the agreement to include assurances for a public community benefits agreement process, tenant protections, and investments in transit infrastructure and public schools.

Mayor Liccardo was not available for an interview. Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco did not respond to messages.

Jenny Schuetz, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, notes that the dynamic between large companies and cities is much different when the company is already established in a location versus when it’s shopping around for a new home. In Amazon’s case, for instance, the company’s home city of Seattle has increasingly sought ways to extract public benefits from the company, which has contributed substantially to its economic growth and accompanying shortage of affordable housing, Schuetz says. That trend may have contributed to the company’s desire to find a new city to host its expanding operations, she says.

But in the case of San Jose, where Google has already committed to building (its headquarters are in nearby Mountain View), the dynamic is different.

“For a company that has its headquarters in a city and has been there a while, it’s really traumatic for them to pick up and move, which is the point when cities can extract things,” Schuetz says.

For Schuetz, who argued in a recent New York Times op-ed that New York should prepare for the new Amazon development by investing in housing, schools, and transit, the best ways to get public benefits out of private development is through broad-based taxes. Ideally, cities will “decide what level of service they want to provide to their residents” ahead of time, and create taxes and policies that provide for those services, rather than singling out one company or industry. But they also need to account for the impact of major new tech developments in ways that prevent existing residents from being displaced, she says.

“I think [cities] are right to ask large employers that pay their workers high salaries to contribute to the communities that they live in,” Schuetz says. “They do create demand for services.”

In California, where cities have limited authority to raise property taxes and the housing market is historically tight, governments have been turning to ballot referenda to find ways to house more people. San Jose recently pushed a record-high bond initiative to pay for more affordable housing, but it failed at the ballot box earlier this month. Without an influx of public money to address the housing crisis, city officials are hopeful that a negotiated deal with Google can at least prevent the worst potential impacts of tech-industry development.

“Tech companies should be viewed neither as our saviors nor our supplicants,” Liccardo said earlier this month, when announcing the MOU with Google. “Rather, we have an opportunity to show another way – for a civic partnership that builds a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable San José.”

 

Tulsans Betting that Remote Workers Will Fall in Love with Tulsa

This April 25, 2013, photo shows workers put the finishing touches on the Woody Guthrie Center, which features a mural of the Oklahoma-born folk singer/songwriter, in downtown Tulsa. (AP Photo/Justin Juozapavicius)

In 2016, a small group of young professionals in Tulsa decided it was time for a new city flag.

The existing flag was boring, they thought — nothing but the city seal on a plain white backdrop. And it was of limited use besides. The Tulsa seal is copyrighted, and can’t be used for any reason without the explicit permission from the city. So they started a social media campaign and held a design competition to develop a new one.

The winning design was symbolically rich: A blue stripe and a golden line to represent the Arkansas River and the “black gold” oil deposits that made the city grow, a shield representing the Native American tribes forcibly removed to “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma, and a red circle to represent the violence of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, in which a white mob attacked the city’s Black Wall Street, killing and injuring hundreds of people.

The Tulsa City Council was hesitant, at first, to make the new flag official, according to reports in the Tulsa World. But the #TulsaFlag organizers had released the design into the public domain, and Tulsans began adopting it as the unofficial mark of hometown pride. In October, in recognition of what a local columnist called “a grand experiment in grassroots democracy,” the council voted unanimously to make it official.

Tulsa’s like that, says Aaron Bolzle, a talent and recruitment manager at the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Tulsa is a place where individuals don’t have to wait to be involved,” Bolzle says. “They can immediately get involved and make an impact the moment they get here.”

In hopes of convincing more young people to give Tulsa a chance, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is now offering $10,000 each to a select group of remote workers who will commit to moving to the city and staying for at least a year. The program, called Tulsa Remote, will provide selected applicants with $2,500 for upfront moving costs, a small monthly stipend, and a final payout at the end of the year. It also provides space at a downtown coworking space called 36 Degrees North, and offers for discounted rent in downtown apartments. To be eligible, applicants have to be at least 18, employed remotely or self-employed outside of Tulsa, and go through an interview-like process with a personality assessment firm that involves a video chat and visit to the city.

In the first 48 hours after the offer became public, Bolzle says, the website got 20,000 visitors, and 1,700 people applied. The foundation, which is covering the cost of all the benefits as taxable income, plans to accept 20-25 applicants in the first year.

“I think that Tulsa being open to diversifying their workforce by attracting remote workers who already have remote income only helps the overall community,” Bolzle says.

Aside from cash, the program is relying on Tulsa’s innate charms to attract applicants: Very low cost of living relative to other cities, easy commutes by car, and a downtown arts and entertainment scene that’s picking up steam.

The new Tulsa city flag. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Even just a decade ago, “One of the bigger knocks on the town was that there was nothing to do,” says Adam Doverspike, the chair-elect of Tulsa’s Young Professionals, a group formed in 2005 by the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Doverspike is a lawyer, and he lived for ten years in Washington, D.C. There, all the charities were nationalized, he says, so it was tough to feel intimately connected to any organizations, and his commute to work was 45 minutes on the metro. When he moved back to Tulsa, his hometown, he says that looking at real estate was like winning the lottery. He ended up with 1,000 more square feet than he had in D.C. and a ten-minute drive to work, with hardly any congestion.

“It’s kind of got the best balance of a lot of the things bigger cities offer without a lot of the inconveniences of bigger cities,” he says.

Will cash offers really convince people to move to a place they otherwise wouldn’t move to? Or will they only attract people who were already planning to move? Time will tell, though the Tulsa Remote program is also notable in providing financial incentives to remote workers at no cost to taxpayers, says Bolzle. (A similar program in Vermont was signed into law last summer. Officials in Vermont did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Success for Tulsa Remote would mean that some portion of the accepted applicants fall in love with the city and choose to stay beyond the required year.

“We have absurdly cheap real estate, and it’s not like you have to go 30 minutes outside the city,” says Doverspike. “The lifestyle you can have at a 20- or 30-something income in some ways is a lot better. You’re not paying a huge dividend just to be in a big city … We’re pretty confident that once you spend some time here, a good chunk of those folks are gonna stay.”

 

What Philadephia Could Gain from Expanding Legal Aid for Tenants

Philadelphia City Hall. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Since the beginning of 2018, the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project has assisted close to 800 tenants who were facing eviction in the city. Launched by eight legal aid groups with $500,000 in funding from the City of Philadelphia, the program helps tenants navigate the court system, provides self-help resources on the web and through a hotline, and offers financial counseling to help some tenants stay in their homes. Through its “Lawyer of the Day” program, the project has also provided 250 tenants with same-day legal representation in court.

“I think anyone who comes into contact with our programs is getting some level of assistance,” says Rasheedah Phillips, a managing attorney at Community Legal Services, the coordinating agency for the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. “I really think it helps to lessen the lead intimidation factor. It helps to give people a sense of clarity and information. The process is extremely confusing, regardless of your education level and your income level, but particularly for people who are low-income and have other barriers to understanding what is happening in court.”

Released on Tuesday, a new study suggests that expanding legal representation to all tenants facing eviction would have wide-ranging benefits — not just for the tenants themselves, but for the city as a whole. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force, and completed by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross, the study concludes that full legal representation for low-income tenants at risk of eviction would cost the city $3.5 million a year, but save $45.2 million a year in costs related to homelessness, education, family and neighborhood instability, and burdens on the court system.

Ethan Fogel, a partner at the law firm Dechert LLP and member of the Philadelphia Bar’s Civil Gideon Task Force, says the group has been working toward establishing a right to counsel for low-income tenants for some time. The report simply adds economic fuel to its argument.

“We guessed, but had no idea that doing what we all want to do is going to be better than revenue-neutral,” Fogel says.

Over the last few years, a wave of reporting, including in Next City, has shown the stark disparities in outcomes for tenants who face eviction proceedings with a lawyer versus those who are unrepresented. The new report concludes that, in Philadelphia, 78 percent of unrepresented tenants are “disruptively displaced” when facing eviction versus just 5 percent of tenants who go into proceedings represented by a lawyer. By providing legal counsel, the city could prevent the displacement of more than 14,000 residents each year, the report concludes.

The report’s estimated savings is much greater than its estimated cost, and still, it says, the savings estimate is likely on the conservative side. The benefits of more housing stability for the city’s most vulnerable tenants, for example, is “not reliably quantifiable” and not included in the report’s calculations.

Like other cities, Philadelphia has begun to face the depth of its eviction problem — the city’s eviction rate is 150 percent of the national average, according to the report — and consider the benefits of addressing it. In May, as Next City reported, the city’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response issued a report outlining 17 recommendations for dealing with the crisis, including supporting legal representation for low-income tenants. (The report also recommended passage of “just cause” legislation in city council, which was proposed last fall but has yet to come to fruition.) Fogel notes that expanding legal counsel for eviction is already on the city’s wishlist, and hopes the report provides backup for a potential investment.

“We hope the general public will become more aware of the issue, but really, we view this as something that will support the city’s efforts to provide greater representation by making it clear that it’s not really a cost,” Fogel says. “It’s far better than break-even.”

A spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney did not respond to a request for comment on the report’s findings.

Phillips adds that the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project has been experimenting with the best ways to target the most vulnerable tenants. They’ve held workshops in neighborhoods with high rates of eviction and code violations. They’ve sent out targeted mailings to those same communities, experimenting with different types of envelopes and notices to see which gets the best response. And she says they’ve begun discussing the best ways to scale up the project in the event that more funding is forthcoming. It’s not totally clear yet whether expanding the pilot or creating a new program as part of the city government would be more efficient, Phillips says. But she believes the city is ready to start thinking about ways to invest in housing stability beyond simply constructing affordable housing.

Because eviction tends to be worse in communities that are already vulnerable in ways beyond housing stability, addressing the issue — especially in the poorest big city in the country — would have benefits that cut across a variety of social problems, according to Phillips.

“It goes beyond housing justice,” Phillips says. “It really is a crisis. It’s a gender justice crisis. It’s a racial justice crisis … It’s a crisis that goes beyond just shelter. It goes to the very core of racial justice.”

 

What Philadelphia Could Gain from Expanding Legal Aid for Tenants

Philadelphia City Hall. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Since the beginning of 2018, the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project has assisted close to 800 tenants who were facing eviction in the city. Launched by eight legal aid groups with $500,000 in funding from the City of Philadelphia, the program helps tenants navigate the court system, provides self-help resources on the web and through a hotline, and offers financial counseling to help some tenants stay in their homes. Through its “Lawyer of the Day” program, the project has also provided 250 tenants with same-day legal representation in court.

“I think anyone who comes into contact with our programs is getting some level of assistance,” says Rasheedah Phillips, a managing attorney at Community Legal Services, the coordinating agency for the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project. “I really think it helps to lessen the lead intimidation factor. It helps to give people a sense of clarity and information. The process is extremely confusing, regardless of your education level and your income level, but particularly for people who are low-income and have other barriers to understanding what is happening in court.”

Released on Tuesday, a new study suggests that expanding legal representation to all tenants facing eviction would have wide-ranging benefits — not just for the tenants themselves, but for the city as a whole. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force, and completed by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross, the study concludes that full legal representation for low-income tenants at risk of eviction would cost the city $3.5 million a year, but save $45.2 million a year in costs related to homelessness, education, family and neighborhood instability, and burdens on the court system.

Ethan Fogel, a partner at the law firm Dechert LLP and member of the Philadelphia Bar’s Civil Gideon Task Force, says the group has been working toward establishing a right to counsel for low-income tenants for some time. The report simply adds economic fuel to its argument.

“We guessed, but had no idea that doing what we all want to do is going to be better than revenue-neutral,” Fogel says.

Over the last few years, a wave of reporting, including in Next City, has shown the stark disparities in outcomes for tenants who face eviction proceedings with a lawyer versus those who are unrepresented. The new report concludes that, in Philadelphia, 78 percent of unrepresented tenants are “disruptively displaced” when facing eviction versus just 5 percent of tenants who go into proceedings represented by a lawyer. By providing legal counsel, the city could prevent the displacement of more than 14,000 residents each year, the report concludes.

The report’s estimated savings is much greater than its estimated cost, and still, it says, the savings estimate is likely on the conservative side. The benefits of more housing stability for the city’s most vulnerable tenants, for example, is “not reliably quantifiable” and not included in the report’s calculations.

Like other cities, Philadelphia has begun to face the depth of its eviction problem — the city’s eviction rate is 150 percent of the national average, according to the report — and consider the benefits of addressing it. In May, as Next City reported, the city’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response issued a report outlining 17 recommendations for dealing with the crisis, including supporting legal representation for low-income tenants. (The report also recommended passage of “just cause” legislation in city council, which was proposed last fall but has yet to come to fruition.) Fogel notes that expanding legal counsel for eviction is already on the city’s wishlist, and hopes the report provides backup for a potential investment.

“We hope the general public will become more aware of the issue, but really, we view this as something that will support the city’s efforts to provide greater representation by making it clear that it’s not really a cost,” Fogel says. “It’s far better than break-even.”

A spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney did not respond to a request for comment on the report’s findings.

Phillips adds that the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project has been experimenting with the best ways to target the most vulnerable tenants. They’ve held workshops in neighborhoods with high rates of eviction and code violations. They’ve sent out targeted mailings to those same communities, experimenting with different types of envelopes and notices to see which gets the best response. And she says they’ve begun discussing the best ways to scale up the project in the event that more funding is forthcoming. It’s not totally clear yet whether expanding the pilot or creating a new program as part of the city government would be more efficient, Phillips says. But she believes the city is ready to start thinking about ways to invest in housing stability beyond simply constructing affordable housing.

Because eviction tends to be worse in communities that are already vulnerable in ways beyond housing stability, addressing the issue — especially in the poorest big city in the country — would have benefits that cut across a variety of social problems, according to Phillips.

“It goes beyond housing justice,” Phillips says. “It really is a crisis. It’s a gender justice crisis. It’s a racial justice crisis … It’s a crisis that goes beyond just shelter. It goes to the very core of racial justice.”

 

Atlantans Not Giving Up Yet on Better Megadevelopment Deal

A tract of land known to locals as The Gulch is shown Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Atlanta. Local leaders narrowly approved a proposal to build a $5 billion project with more than three times the office space of New York's Empire State Building. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Tanya Washington, a professor of law at Georgia State University, was at Atlanta City Hall late last Monday night. She was there that day as one of many who opposed the mayor’s plan to subsidize the redevelopment of “The Gulch,” a sunken, 40-acre morass of railway lines and surface parking lots in the heart of Atlanta. At 9:30 p.m., she and her kids drove to south Georgia where she would work as an election protection volunteer the next day.

“I was exhausted, but it was necessary,” Washington says. “Both things were necessary.”

The timing of the final vote — close to midnight the night before a contentious election for governor that is still undecided as of today — rubbed some advocates the wrong way, as many of the activists who were opposed to the Gulch project were also working to get out the vote.

The timing was a coincidence, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says.

Washington became involved with the Redlight the Gulch campaign in September, and had immediate concerns about the procedural aspects of the proposal. Specifically, she was alarmed that Mayor Bottoms was asking the city council to approve the public subsidies so quickly after receiving details of the agreement with the developer.

“I’ve been teaching law for 17 years and still, a 600-page document full of legalese is intimidating,” Washington says. “You need more than three days to read it.”

Beyond procedure, Washington says that the deal is structured to benefit the developer far more than the public. The millions in tax increment financing benefits — they’re called Tax Allocation Districts in Georgia — would deprive the public school system of resources it would otherwise have over the next twenty years, she says. And the city, which owns part of the Gulch, is giving up land as well.

“My biggest issue is, we’re going to subsidize $1.5 billion worth of this project and we’re not going to own any of it,” Washington says.

It was late last year, in the waning days of former Mayor Kasim Reed’s final term, that details began leaking out about a plan to redevelop the Gulch.

The project is massive: Nine million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, 1,000 residential units and 1,500 hotel rooms, all propped up on a podium of parking garages and laid out on a grid of new streets that would be publicly accessible but privately owned. The proposal was a joint effort of Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler and the L.A.-based real estate firm CIM Group, which was co-founded by Ressler’s brother, Richard. Early reports put the cost of the project at around $1 billion. But by late summer of 2018, the projected cost was set at $5 billion, and Mayor Bottoms had made the Gulch’s development a central effort of her first year in office.

In September, Bottoms announced the broad outlines of the proposal, which by then involved close to $2 billion in public financing, and said she expected city council to vote on the plan by the end of the month. She began publishing op-ed pieces urging Atlantans to “Greenlight the Gulch,” a slogan that was also the centerpiece of a campaign organized by the developers. Over the next two months, a coalition of housing and anti-displacement groups, urbanists, and transit advocates across the city began crying foul. At first, they just wanted the city to slow down and allow surrounding communities to negotiate with the developers. But later, as many began to determine that the deal was bad for Atlanta residents, and unlikely to get much better, they organized a campaign of their own, urging city council to Redlight the Gulch.

Late last Monday night, after ten hours of public testimony, the city council finally sided with the mayor, approving a package of tax incentives for the Gulch development by a narrow 8-6 majority. After amendments, the city’s portion of the cost adds up to around $1.9 billion in tax increment financing and a newly created Enterprise Zone that would capture future sales tax revenue from the redeveloped site. In exchange, the developer has promised to build at least 200 units of housing that’s affordable for households at 80 percent of area median income, and pay $28 million into an affordable housing trust fund, among other givebacks.

To many advocates, the deal is hopelessly lopsided in favor of the developers and signals a missed opportunity to develop more affordable housing, provide better transit access, and elevate community voices in the development process.

“The Gulch deal, from a lot of different angles is, to me, a hot mess,” says Taiza Troutman, a graduate student in urban studies at Georgia State University and former organizer with the group ATLisReady. “And it’s representative of all the intersections of issues that come with Atlanta development.”

For opponents, the drawbacks of the proposal are as expansive as its ambitions. As recently as 2012, plans were in the works to transform the Gulch into a transportation hub, with one study projecting that plan would create or attract more than 15,000 jobs and drastically reduce vehicle miles traveled on area highways. But despite a promise of fast-tracked funding from the Obama administration, the hub never got off the ground. As the Greenlight the Gulch campaign developed, some Atlantans complained that the current proposal is not just a bad deal on its own terms, but it also misuses one of the best opportunities to create better transit infrastructure in a city that is often choked by automobile traffic.

“A couple years ago this was supposed to be a multimodal passenger terminal, and we were excited about that because transit and transit equity is important,” says Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia STAND-UP, a “thinktank for working communities” and one of the organizing members of the Redlight the Gulch coalition.

Scott says that advocates weren’t outright opposed to the project when Bottoms first announced it late in the summer. Instead, she says, they were hoping that residents of the surrounding neighborhoods would get a chance to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the developers before the project moved forward. As a candidate for mayor, Bottoms had said she was in favor of requiring legally binding community benefits agreements when public dollars were put to use for development projects. But opposition hardened as it became clear such an agreement wasn’t on the table.

“Look, it’s a hole in the ground — we want it to be something,” says Melonie Tharpe, a Redlight the Gulch organizer.

But the problems with the proposal go way beyond the lack of a community benefits agreement, Tharpe says. From many advocates’ point of view, the city’s gestures toward community engagement were superficial. One public meeting about the Gulch project in late September was described as “tightly controlled” in a local public radio report. And advocates say the Gulch proposal would have improved if it had gone through Atlanta’s formal Neighborhood Planning Unit process.

“Even if you’re not going to listen to [residents’] ideas, at least provide them a venue to get those ideas out there,” Tharpe says. “The city seems to have just rolled over and said, ‘Great, we’re so happy to have you. We will give you the keys to the kingdom.’”

A spokesperson for Mayor Bottoms noted that the public had a chance to weigh in at four separate city council meetings — no vote was held at the first three because the proposal didn’t have enough support to pass — and that Bottoms held a live-streamed public Q&A in September. There were also “numerous community meetings” in several city council districts about the project, the spokesperson said.

For Darin Givens, co-founder of the urbanist group ThreadATL, the prospect of privately owned streets patched into the street grid downtown is disturbing as well. Before last Monday’s city council vote, ThreadATL released a letter urging the council to vote “no” on the project, noting that private streets could mean a crackdown on public demonstrations.

“This part of downtown Atlanta is an area that has seen so many marches,” Givens says. “We participated in a couple of large marches, me and my family did, that went right past the Gulch … It just makes sense to me and to ThreadATL that any streets that go in here should honor that history of protest, that history of freedom in our public domain.”

One of the biggest concerns about the Gulch project is its impact on housing. Georgia STAND-UP’s Scott says that a major influx of luxury housing in that part of downtown Atlanta could raise property taxes in surrounding low-income communities, and there are no anti-displacement measures in place to mitigate that. And the affordable housing component of the proposal are meager, in many opponents’ eyes. In an independent review of the proposal, five local university professors and economic development professionals called the affordable housing giveback “the faintest of promises.”

Tim Franzen, an organizer with the Housing Justice League, says that the affordable housing component of the proposal is both too small and not affordable enough. With the amount of subsidy the city is providing, it should expect many more reduced-rate units, affordable to people at a range of incomes, Franzen says. Units that are affordable to people making 80 percent of area median income are still out of reach for many low-income Atlantans.

“We can no longer use the term affordable housing in these development footprints unless it’s actually meeting the neighborhood need, and the neighborhood need is not $1,200, one-bedroom units,” Franzen says. “This approach to development — and I’m not the only one that has this opinion — it’s what continues to thrust us forward in being the most unequal city in the country. This is another example of a mayor saying one thing on the campaign trail and then very swiftly after taking office doing something different.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Bottoms said that the mayor began negotiating the affordable housing component of the Gulch plan after taking office last January, and used the city’s recently adopted inclusionary zoning policy as a starting point.

“Mayor Bottoms then expanded those policies to increase the percentage of units and address affordable housing on a city-wide basis in the form of the $28,000,000 trust fund,” the spokesperson says.

It should also be noted that the developers have committed to using close to 40 percent minority and women-owned business for contracting, along with other components of the project listed as public benefits.

While they weren’t able to stop city council from approving the subsidies, some advocates see a silver lining. The project has brought a range of advocacy groups together in an “unlikely coalition,” says Deborah Scott, and they can point to concrete benefits of their efforts. After initial opposition to the proposal, Bottoms agreed to remove a ten-year extension of the tax allocation district, which advocates say will save the city and school district hundreds of millions of dollars.

And even though the project has been greenlit, opponents haven’t given up. Prior to the city council vote, the coalition sent a legal analysis to City Council President Felicia Moore suggesting that the project’s planned use of Enterprise Zone tax benefits ran afoul of the state constitution. Moore was unavailable for an interview, but said in a statement to Next City that she had reviewed the analysis, but was waiting for the city’s Law Department to weigh in before rendering an opinion of her own.

The “unlikely” coalition has set up a GoFundMe to cover the costs of a potential legal challenge. And they’re hopeful that the force of their opposition will make for a better process the next time around.

“I think that perhaps this sends a message to the mayor and council that people are not going to stand for business as usual, and that they need to adhere to a protocol that is more inclusive,” says Washington. “Not because they’re doing us a favor, but because it actually will be a better deal.”

 

Affordable Housing Wins at the Ballot Box in 2018

A city hall rally held by the Keep Austin Affordable coalition in June 2018. (Credit: Keep Austin Affordable)

Gregorio Casar spent Election Day trying to calm his nerves.

Casar, a second-term city councilman in Austin, wasn’t up for election on Tuesday, but voters were slated to decide on a $250 million affordable housing bond measure that he helped craft. He got to his polling place at 6 a.m., an hour before it opened, and says he “wasn’t even close to being the first in line.” It was a high-energy election. Texas Democrats were fired up by the prospect that the Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso might pull off an upset and unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz. And outside the state, it seemed like the whole country was at stake.

When the votes were counted, O’Rourke had narrowly lost, but Austin’s Proposition A had passed with flying colors, earning more than 73 percent of the vote.

“When we were first putting this package together, there were a lot of people who I really respect who said that a $250 million housing bond was a failure out of the gate,” Casar says. “Last night, all across Texas, but in Central Texas especially, our communities showed that the world of the possible is much broader than people might have imagined when people show up and fight and are inspired, and when people show up and vote.”

The bond, as Next City has covered, will be used primarily to acquire land for affordable housing development, while supporting rental assistance, affordable homeownership, and home repair programs. It’s the biggest housing bond that Austin has ever passed — four times larger than the last housing bond in 2013. A well-funded PAC called Keep Austin Affordable helped lead the campaign for Proposition A, but it was also supported by a coalition of advocates concerned about rising housing costs in the city.

“There were a lot of people who were inspired about voting not just for candidates but voting for an issue that mattered directly to them,” Casar said. “I think the housing bond shows in part how you can really inspire younger voters and voters of color to feel like their vote really counts.”

Austin wasn’t the only city considering a bond measure to support affordable housing. In Charlotte, voters were asked to approve $50 million in bonds to support an affordable housing trust fund, as Next City reported in September. Voters in San Jose faced the prospect of a $450 million housing bond to support affordable housing production and preservation, which proponents said would help create 3,550 new units in the Silicon Valley city. The housing bond in Charlotte passed with around 70 percent of the vote, according to the Charlotte Observer. The San Jose measure earned more than 60 percent of the vote, but didn’t reach the two-thirds threshold needed to pass.

In a statement to Next City, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo noted that voters had approved a separate ballot measure, known as “Measure T,” to fund infrastructure upgrades in the city but acknowledged that the hoped-for housing investment had not made the cut.

“Amid the historically deep division in our nation, a broad coalition of our San Jose community came together to pass the largest bond measure in San Jose history, Measure T, to rebuild our city,” Liccardo said. “With Measure T’s passage, we’ll make San Jose safer and more sustainable, with critical investments into repaving roads, upgrading our 911 emergency communications infrastructure, rebuilding fire stations and seismically-vulnerable bridges, and protecting open space in Coyote Valley … Although 62 percent of us supported the affordable housing measure, Measure V, that strong majority will not suffice for the two-thirds threshold required for passage, so I will be rolling up my sleeves in the weeks ahead to push for alternative solutions for our housing crisis.”

Overall, the 2018 elections showed positive signs for housing advocates around the country, said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a statement.

“Tremendous local and state victories on ballot initiatives to address homelessness and housing poverty mean new affordable homes for the people most in need and new alliances and momentum for bigger victories to come,” Yentel said. “And yesterday proved that housing is a winning campaign issue — one that voters increasingly understand and show up to vote for and one that causes policymakers at all levels to act.”

In addition to Austin and Charlotte, Yentel cited successful housing measures in San Francisco, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Bellingham, Washington. Voters in the three counties surrounding Portland, Oregon, also approved $653 million in bonds to support affordable housing programs.

California voters also approved a $4 billion bond measure to support housing production across the state. A $25 million housing bond failed, however, in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Beyond local housing measures, Yentel said in her statement, candidates for various offices around the country were helping to highlight concerns about affordable housing at the national level. And Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives could put housing champions in control of important committees with jurisdiction over housing issues, she said.

“Yesterday’s election results show that we can achieve the investments and policy changes necessary to end homelessness and housing poverty,” Yentel said. “Until now, we as a country have chosen not to. But voters are increasingly demanding new choices, and policymakers are heeding the call.”

 



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