Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

San Francisco Poised To Eliminate Parking Minimums Citywide

An empty parking lot in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to propose removing all parking minimums, with legislation introduced in October, Quartz reports.

The city’s minimum parking requirements, which date to the 1950s, require one car space per residential unit, the nonprofit Livable City says. However, San Francisco has been rolling back minimum parking requirements around transit since BART opened in the 1970s, the SF Examiner reported. The new legislation, introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim, would eliminate minimum parking requirements citywide.

Developers in San Francisco already avoid building car parking by providing alternatives like bike parking, the Examiner says. The legislation would simply formalize what many developers already practice — avoiding building expensive parking spaces.

Meanwhile, office parking (which would also have their minimum requirements lifted under Kim’s legislation) is already tight, Bisnow reports, fretting that lifting minimum parking requirements would further squeeze commuters. But with only 70 percent of commuters in the Bay Area driving to work, San Francisco has one of the lowest proportion of car commuters in the nation, the publication said. The parking ratio of spaces to square feet of office space is also among the nation’s lowest, with two spots per thousand square feet.

Kim stresses that removing minimum parking requirements would not “prohibit parking in any redevelopment. It would merely remove the requirement that a developer would have to build a minimum number of parking spaces,” she said during a hearing Monday.

The move is likely to be hailed by developers, as the cost of building a parking space in San Francisco is the highest on the U.S. mainland, according to author Donald Shoup. At $38,000 for one below-ground space, only Honolulu is more expensive. Another study found that building parking drives up the cost of building housing so much that 700,000 carless renters nationwide are paying a collective $440 million a year for parking spaces they’ll never use.

Paul Chasan, a city planner for San Francisco, told the Examiner that he thinks some developers will still build parking where economics allow it — or neighbors demand it.

“They operate under political constraints where the neighborhoods will probably pressure them to build parking,” he said.

If the legislation passes, San Francisco will be the largest city, by far, to fully eliminate parking minimums — and the second nationwide. Hartford, Connecticut, a city of 125,000, did so in 2017. Dozens of other cities have relaxed parking minimums or removed them in transit corridors, Governing magazine reports. In Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, until parking minimums were waived, usable buildings sat vacant because of the cost of adding parking, or torn down to make parking spaces for other developments, Governing says.

The full board of supervisors votes next week on the legislation.

 

Denver May Open First U.S. Supervised Injection Site

(Photo by Matt Wright)

Denver’s city council voted 12-1 to approve a supervised injection site in the city, putting it in the running to be the first American city to do so, reports the Associated Press.

If successful, Denver would have the country’s first approved site for people to use illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine under medical supervision, but there are more obstacles yet to come.

Though the council approved a two-year pilot, the program must be approved by the state legislature and the governor (which are both Democratic, starting in January). Beyond that, facilitating the use of illegal drugs is a federal felony, and the federal government so far has not looked kindly upon proposed supervised injection sites.

Other U.S. cities have also expressed interest in opening up such sites, saying that giving drug addicts a safe place to use drugs, under medical supervision, can save lives. In Philadelphia, the nonprofit Safehouse is hoping to open a supervised injection site in March. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote last month that such sites remain illegal.

“Cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action,” he wrote — to which former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who serves on Safehouse’s board, said, “Come and arrest me.”

San Francisco, Seattle and New York have also expressed interest in opening a safe injection site, but their proposals are not as fully developed as Philadelphia’s.

In Denver, drug overdoses killed 201 people last year, the second-highest cause of death. Supporters hope they can reduce this number by providing a safe place to use and the opportunity for swift medical intervention in case of overdose. It’s certainly seemed to help in Canada, Australia and Europe. The Guardian reports that no deaths have been recorded at any of the 78 supervised injection sites in Europe. One site in Denmark saw 800 overdoses, but no one died because trained medical staff can administer overdose reversers like Narcan.

“These people are really sick, they cannot just suddenly stop taking drugs,” says Anders Larsen, a social worker and chemist at the Danish facility. “All we can do is make it as safe as possible, and if they decide that they want to give up, then we will immediately direct them to addiction support services.”

Denver’s site would be operated by the Harm Reduction Action Center, the largest needle exchange in Colorado, across the street from the Capitol building. People addicted to drugs get a clean needle from the center, then usually walk into the nearest alley to use, the center’s executive director, Lisa Raville, told the AP.

One Denver city councilmember voted against the bill, saying it didn’t go far enough in helping people addicted to drugs get into treatment.

“A safe injection site is not treatment,” Kevin Flynn told the AP. “It’s like bringing a lung cancer patient into a smoking room and giving him more cigarettes,” he said.

The Colorado state legislature must approve the site for the plan to move forward. No bill has yet been introduced; the legislative session does not begin until January, but State Senator-elect Brittany Pettersen, formerly a member of the Colorado House, told the AP she thinks she has bipartisan support to allow at least one pilot site.

 

In Climate Plan, Indy Places Equity Front and Center

(Photo by Steve Baker via Flickr)

In keeping with a promise it made in March 2017, Indianapolis has released an 80-point plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as become generally more sustainable by 2025.

The plan — billed as a collaboration among city departments, county agencies, community groups and residents — includes ideas like boosting electric vehicle ownership, expanding curbside recycling and adding green space. It also places equity front and center.

Thrive Indianapolis says its first goal is to “increase community resilience by prioritizing equity.” “To build a more sustainable and resilient community, we must not only address the direct impacts of climate change, but also look at those existing chronic stressors that limit the ability of some of our community members to enhance their personal resilience,” the report says. To that end, many of the report’s initiatives factor around the economy and jobs — creating a green-job training program and coworking space, for example, and encouraging local businesses to hire local. The city also plans to reduce food insecurity by 25% by lobbying to increase SNAP benefits and subsidizing the cost of equipment for farmers markets to accept food stamps.

The report also contains more standard goals as well, around buildings, transportation and energy. By 2025, the city will be 20% powered by renewable energy, Thrive Indianapolis says, and municipal buildings will be 100% renewable by 2028. The plan also pushes the city to mandate new buildings to be built with green technology and increase ridership and service on bus rapid transit.

As part of creating the report, the city also developed a Social Vulnerability Index, identifying which geographical areas most need investment to cope with climate change. This helped the team map out which areas need more tree cover (so that communities can better handle high-heat days) as well as which regions of the city have the most impervious surfaces, which are most vulnerable to flooding. The city plans to plant 30,000 new trees by 2025, especially in the regions identified as most vulnerable.

In October 2018, Indianapolis was named one of 20 cities to share a $70-million Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge Grant. Indianapolis will get $2.5 million of that grant to start implementing the Thrive Indianapolis plan. The money will launch a building energy benchmarking program and an “energy resource center,” which will help Hoosiers learn about energy rebates and incentives.

Notably, Indianapolis has — like many American cities — pushed these climate policies even as national climate policy has regressed in the opposite direction. While Mayor Joe Hogsett did not sign the Climate Mayors agreement, a statement signed by more than 400 mayors saying they plan to honor the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement even after Trump withdrew, he has stated that preparing for climate change is one of the most important things a city can do.

“The climate is changing,” he said at a summit in 2017, Next City reported at the time, adding that if “the tragedies of the last several weeks have taught us anything, it is this: How well cities are prepared will determine their success over the years and decades to come.”

 

General Motors to Close Five U.S. Plants, Cut 14,000 Jobs

In this photo from 2011, assembly line worker Edward Houie moves a door into position for a Chevrolet Volt at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, one of the five manufacturing facilities GM intends to shut down. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

General Motors announced it’s cutting its workforce by 14,000 employees, closing at least five plants in North America.

The company is profitable, CBS News reports.

The affected plants are the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and Warren Transmission Operations in metro Detroit; Lordstown Assembly in Lordstown, Ohio; the Baltimore Operations in White Marsh, Maryland; and the Oshawa Assembly Plant in Oshawa, Ontario, the Free Press reports.

The moves affect 8,000 white-collar jobs and about 6,200 factory jobs, the Free Press added.

Ars Technica reports that GM says it will no longer make the Chevy Volt, Impala or Cruze for the North American market, where consumers are buying fewer cars and more trucks and SUVs.

“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” GM CEO Mary Barra wrote in a press release.

GM’s stock was up 5 percent after the announcement, the Free Press reported, but lawmakers were incensed. Via The Hill, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the closings “corporate greed at its worst.”

Even Republicans got on board. “We don’t like it,” Pres. Donald Trump told reporters, according to PBS News Hour. “I spoke with [Berra] when I heard they were closing, and I said, you know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon.”

Sen. Rob Portman (D-Ohio) said he was “deeply frustrated” by the announcement, The Hill said.

The 300-acre Hamtramck plant that is closing in Detroit has a bitter history, the Free Press reported. Building it in the early 1980s required razing Poletown, a neighborhood of 4,000 people, which Detroit used eminent domain to seize on behalf of GM.

Later court decisions overturned the idea that cities can use eminent domain to take private land to give to another private owner solely for economic development, but as the Free Press’s John Gallagher notes, cities are still courting huge economic deals (hello, HQ2) at the expense of existing neighborhoods. Urban planners, he writes, “hope to create districts where residents can live, work, shop, and find recreation opportunities all within a 20-minute walk — districts, in other words, like the Poletown neighborhood wiped out by the GM project.”

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski told the Free Press that the history of the plant makes its closure more shocking. “That a neighborhood was destroyed, lives were upended … institutions crumbled to the dust to create this plant and to think of it now being empty is a real blow to the legacy of that neighborhood that was sacrificed for that plant,” Majewski said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also weighed in on the origins of the plant.

“I reminded [Berra] that we moved thousands of people out of that neighborhood, hundreds of businesses, six churches and a hospital to create that assembly plant, and I felt that the city of Detroit deserved more consideration,” Duggan said.

Duggan added that “the news is troubling,” but that the city is “working together to come up with a solution that works for GM and the employees.” Later Monday, during an unrelated news conference, he added that “we’re not giving up” on GM and that “we’re going to try to convince them that a modern plant in an area where you can get a good workforce is an asset.”

 

‘The Sunset Experience’ Adds Walkability to the Sunset Strip

A rendering of the Sunset Boulevard parklet that will front Book Soup, an independent bookseller. (Credit: City of West Hollywood)

A six-month pilot in West Hollywood will make the famed Sunset Strip a better place to walk, reports local news site WeHoVille.

For four blocks along Sunset Boulevard, the city will install seating, colorful light poles and painted sidewalk extensions to make crossing the street easier. It’s also building a parklet at 8818 Sunset Boulevard in front of indie bookstore Book Soup, where passersby can sit, enjoy shade, and pick up or drop off a book at a Little Free Library. Wayfinding posters will direct pedestrians toward food, drink and entertainment, as well as providing history of the area.

“The pop-ups will create spaces to welcome pedestrians, invite walking, encourage interaction and draw attention to Sunset as an exciting place for people, not just cars,” the city said in a statement.

West Hollywood is the most walkable city in California, according to Walkscore, but still can be an unsafe place for pedestrians. In 2013, there was an average of 4.4 vehicle collisions with pedestrians crossing the street, WeHoByTheNumbers calculated using city data. New signs and reflective markers installed in 2015 lowered collision numbers to around 2.5 per month. A PSA video released around the same time went viral for reminding pedestrians to get off their phones; the video featured drag queen William Belli dressed as Alice in Wonderland, dancing to a Taylor Swift parody… because West Hollywood.

Though the city attempts to improve conditions for pedestrians, it’s not as if car traffic zips along. During rush hour, driving Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood is usually no slower or faster than rush hour in Beverly Hills or Hollywood, reports WeHoByTheNumbers. But car traffic slows to a crawl in West Hollywood outside of rush hour, slower than in neighboring cities. This fact has drivers pretty cheesed about the proposed pedestrian measures, at least judging from the comments on WeHoVille’s post about the project.

Planning firm Gehl Studio designed the interventions, which are being installed now for a December 4 unveiling event. At the event, pedestrians — and ticked-off drivers — will have a chance to share their opinions with the city planning team.

After the six-month pilot ends, the city said, they’ll use the results to recommend future permanent actions on Sunset. Or, simply suggest additional pop-ups.

 

Who’s Bucking the Trend on Diversity in High Tech Jobs?

(Photo by Jiuguang Wang)

Women and people of color are generally underrepresented in “high-level” digital fields like programming, but there are eight cities bucking the trend, according to new research from the Brookings Institution.

“Perhaps local culture is the reason. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of local institutions or the existence of vibrant and longstanding peer networks or active efforts to promote inclusion,” authors Jacob Whiton and Mark Muro write, drawing on data from the think tank’s Digitalization and the American Workforce report, which Next City covered upon its release last year. “Regardless of the cause, some places are achieving a higher degree of digital inclusion.”

The eight cities are Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; St. Louis, Mo.; Denver, Colo.; and Sacramento, Calif.

Some cities received props for having gender-inclusive tech workforces (D.C., Sacramento, and Raleigh), others for achieving high representation rates for Latinos or African-Americans (St. Louis and Denver, respectively).

It doesn’t take a Brookings expert to prove that the economy is growing increasingly digital. In the last 15 years, the percentage of jobs that require people to be digitally literate rose, the think tank said in a previous report. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of jobs now require “high digital” knowledge, while “medium digital” occupations rose to 47.5 percent. Most new jobs created require digital skills. And because these high-digital jobs typically pay better, inclusivity matters.

Raleigh received credit for its connections between its universities and top tech firms, which have become “effective points of intervention for facilitating female graduates’ movement into tech work or tech-related entrepreneurship,” the authors write. St. Louis, on the other hand, was cited for being the only city where Hispanic workers are more highly represented in tech than in the broader workforce. (A separate Brookings report puts Corpus Christi even higher.) All other metro areas have slight-to-huge inclusion gaps when it comes to representation of Hispanics.

Similarly, only a handful of cities have closed the representation gap when it comes to black workers. Greenville received points for the fact that about 18 percent of the region’s tech jobs are held by black people, about a 2 percent over-representation.

Black and Hispanic workers in Pittsburgh are slightly underrepresented in tech, but the region “has tried to be proactive,” Brookings writes, hosting an annual festival showcasing and encouraging diversity in hiring, and creating and working off a “Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation” created in 2015.

Sacramento, on the other hand, “stands out when it comes to women’s employment in digitally-intensive computer and mathematical occupations, and black and Hispanic workers’ nearly equitable representation in the field.” It also has a large share of “mid-tech” jobs, which are high-paying jobs in the tech field that don’t necessarily require a college degree. Tech support and entry-level coding, as well as some analyst jobs, fall into this category and often require only an associates’ degree or a certification. Another mid-tech job hub is Columbus, Ohio, where 13,000 people are employed in mid-tech jobs, Brookings said.

 

D.C. Moves To Limit Short-Term Rentals

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Concerned about rising housing prices, the Washington, D.C., Council voted unanimously to restrict Airbnb and other short-term rental companies, the Washington Post reports.

The rules are among the “tightest” in the nation, the Post said.

If signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the new rules will prevent all short-term rentals of second homes and only allow primary homes to be rented for a max of 90 days per year if the host is not present. (If the host is present, there’s no cap, WAMU explains.)

Airbnb called the vote “reckless” in a statement.

“The D.C. Council’s reckless vote today is the latest example of the misleading tactics used to pass fiscally irresponsible home sharing policy,” Airbnb spokesperson Crystal Davis said.

Mayor Bowser has not threatened to veto the bill — likely because it passed with a veto-proof majority.

Housing advocates have long charged that Airbnb raises housing prices for residents by taking housing units off the market. It’s often more profitable to rent out an apartment for multiple short-term rentals than to rent it to one tenant.

In Boston, that view has led the city to ban investors and tenants from renting their spaces on short-term rental sites and limit the number of listings a host can have. Those rules are set to take effect Jan. 1., but Airbnb on Tuesday filed suit against the city, saying the regulations violate state and federal law.

In New Orleans, regulations keep rentals down to 90 nights per unit, unless the home is in a commercial area, in which case no cap applies. Officials say cities around the world are modeling their regulations on New Orleans’ approach.

Research into how Airbnb has affected D.C.’s housing supply, in particular, is largely anecdotal, but a report from the independent D.C. Policy Center earlier this year suggested that Airbnb rentals make up just over 1 percent of D.C.’s total housing stock, and over two-thirds of active listings are for whole unit rentals, which are more likely to be offered by investors. Most Airbnb hosts in D.C. have only one listing, but 41 hosts in D.C. have six or more listings available, pointing to the presence of at least some significant investors.

The D.C. Policy Center also found that the majority of “commercial” hosts (defined as someone with at least three room listings or one whole-unit listing) are concentrated downtown in high-rent neighborhoods. “These listings are considered particularly problematic because they likely take housing units off the market that would have otherwise been available to residents.”

The bill’s opponents — including Airbnb — cited a preliminary financial analysis by the District’s chief financial officer, showing that the city would lose $96 million in tax revenue a year if the law is enacted. That analysis is likely inflated, said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, because it assumes that the District will begin enforcing existing zoning regulations that would make 80-90 percent of Airbnb rentals illegal, including those in primary residences that meet the 90-day limit. Instead, the office of planning and the zoning commission plan to change that rule.

The new Airbnb rules will go into effect Oct. 1, 2019, pending the mayor’s signature (or her allowing the bill to become law without her signature, as she has done in the past) and the mandatory 30-day Congressional review. Airbnb has suggested it will put an initiative to overturn the rules on the 2020 ballot.

 

Waymo Self-Driving Taxis Will Launch in Phoenix in December

Waymo's Pacifica driverless minivans are said to comprise a major part of the fleet for the as-yet unnamed robotaxi service. (Photo by Daniel Cardenas)

Waymo, the self-driving car startup run by Google parent Alphabet, is planning to launch commercial taxi service in Phoenix before the end of the year, Bloomberg reports.

The service will launch under a new brand with a secret-for-now name, and the ramp-up will be pretty slow. Only a few “dozens or hundreds” of riders in the Phoenix suburbs will have access to the new taxis for now. They’re likely the same people who participated in the Early Rider Program, 400 volunteer families who have been riding Waymos for the past year, Bloomberg speculates. Once the new robotaxis launch, volunteers will be “released from their non-disclosure agreements” and can legally take selfies and friends along in the cars.

“This positions Waymo really far ahead of everyone else,” Nick Albanese, an intelligent mobility analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told Bloomberg. “GM is the other leader, and they’re probably more than a year away from doing this. It’s very impressive.”

Bloomberg says that Waymo’s cars can drive nearly three times as far as competitors before humans have to step in and take control, according to tests in California. In 2017, Waymo cars traveled approximately 5,500 miles at a time without human intervention.

“Some cars” in the new company-that’s-not-called-Waymo fleet will still have backup drivers, and prices will be competitive with Uber and Lyft, The Verge wrote. (Beyond that, it’s unclear what the rides will cost.)

Waymo has been testing its cars in the Phoenix suburbs since 2016. Competitors such as Uber have also been testing in the region. Famously, an Uber self-driving SUV struck and killed Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb, in March. Waymo cars have been involved in “dozens” of accidents, the Boston Globe added, but most have been fender-benders. Waymo says that its vehicles are safer than human drivers because they don’t get distracted or drive drunk. If so, it will be a boon for Arizonans, who live in the state with the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the nation. Phoenix, in particular, has a high rate of pedestrian fatalities, though city officials have been slow to adopt Complete Streets recommendations.

In early 2018, Fiat Chrysler said that Waymo had ordered “thousands” of vehicles for the program, the Arizona Republic reported. Bloomberg put a more specific number on that, reporting that the company has agreed to buy 62,000 plug-in hybrid minivans and 20,000 all-electric SUVs “over the next few years.”

If Waymo succeeds, Ed Finn wrote in MIT Technology Review this summer, it has the potential to reshape Phoenix completely. The sprawling metro area was designed to accommodate cars, he said; so what if residents could borrow a self-driving vehicle whenever they need one? Waymos can’t go through a normal car wash for fear of damaging delicate sensors; will existing car washes retool or will Google build its own specialized facilities? Maybe instead of cars, we’ll have autonomous droids that carry heavy purchases as we walk down the sidewalk. Maybe the grocery store will come to us. Finn points out that Amazon already has a “Treasure Truck,” which invites customers to meet a delivery truck carrying a deeply discounted single item. It’s not a stretch to imagine that truck becoming self-driving, and maybe more practical.

Consistent with that attitude, Waymo is not just focusing on transporting passengers. Waymo CEO John Krafcik told CNET that self-driving trucks could be the first money-making enterprise. The U.S. faces a 50,000-driver shortage in the trucking industry, which is projected to grow to 275,000, he said.

 

Amazon Makes It Official: Two HQ2 Locations to Split Jobs and Investment

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

It’s finally official: Amazon has chosen two sites for HQ2, and they are, as widely speculated, New York City and Northern Virginia.

In yet another curveball in the drawn-out selection process, however, Amazon announced this morning that it’s also opening an “Operations Center of Excellence” in downtown Nashville, bringing 5,000 jobs to the southern city that was shortlisted as a finalist for HQ2.

In Long Island City, Amazon says it will bring 25,000 jobs to 4-8 million square feet of office space in exchange for $1.525 billion in subsidies.

In Northern Virginia, Amazon has selected a site near National Airport that it is dubbing “National Landing.” (A term that this ten-year DC-area resident can confidently claim is Not A Thing — and Google agrees with me.) The region, near Crystal City, has struggled with office vacancies after the federal government moved a number of offices in the naughts.

Amazon says it will get up to $573 million in incentives for creating 25,000 high-paying jobs, and the Commonwealth of Virginia will spend $195 million upgrading two metro stations (one of which does not yet exist) and other infrastructure improvements.

The Nashville office will bring 5,000 jobs to the city, Amazon said, in exchange for $102 million in tax incentives.

Pundits and analysts quickly took to dissecting the news.

One quick takeaway, according to CNN Business reporter Lydia DePillis: New York may not be as good of a negotiator as Virginia. The state of New York is paying more than double per job compared to Virginia ($48,000 per job vs $22,000) and also giving the company $325 million just for the buildings it’s occupying. On the other hand, DePillis pointed out, Amazon is also promising some community benefits: donating space for a tech incubator and a public school. Neither of those benefits will come to Virginia.

Amazon is expected to generate massive pressure on housing, though investors didn’t need to wait for the official announcement to begin speculating. The Washington Post reports that Amazon’s interest in Crystal City raised the price of a Crystal City condo by $20,000 overnight.

On the other hand, at least one D.C.-area economist isn’t sure that the real estate speculation is warranted. In an interview with Washingtonian magazine last week, George Mason professor Stephen Fuller acknowledged that the Amazon move is “massive,” but that the region is already in a growth spurt, adding 50,000 jobs to the region every year for the past three years. “If Amazon came here in their full glory, it would be 50,000 jobs added over some period, which could be as much as 20 years. So it’s not quite as imposing as a lot of people may think,” he said. According to WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle, in fact, Amazon only plans to hire 400 people in Crystal City in 2019, slowly ramping up past that.

The company said the jobs it is bringing to the area will all pay $150,000 or more. That’s far above the metro area’s median household income of $95,843 (as of 2016), already the third highest median income of any metro area in the country.

Alex Howe of the Northern Virginia branch of the Metro D.C Democratic Socialists told Austermuhle his group was concerned with how HQ2 will worsen housing costs in the area.

“Arlington and our region already have an affordable housing crisis due to gentrification and rising rents, which so-called HQ2 will surely exacerbate,” he said.

 

Hunger Is on the Wane Nationwide, but on the Rise in Philly

The Mitzvah Food Project pantry in Philadelphia. According to Hunger Free America, in the Philadelphia metro area, about half of food-insecure adults already have jobs. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Even as fewer people in the U.S. are going hungry, hunger in Philadelphia has increased by 22 percent, a new report from Hunger Free America finds.

It’s “the latest example of how Philadelphia diverges from the national mainstream on issues of poverty,” the Philly Inquirer wrote.

The report found that from 2015-2017, 302,685 Philadelphia residents, or 18.3 percent of the population, lived in food-insecure households. That’s up from 16.7 percent of the population, or 248,046 people, from 2012-2014, and significantly up from 2005-2007, when only 12 percent of the population was considered food insecure.

In the broader Philadelphia metro area, about half of food-insecure adults were working, but still food insecure.

It’s a slight improvement from last year’s report when Hunger Free America found that 19.3 percent of the Philadelphia population lived in food-insecure households. The national average, according to the USDA, is 11.8 percent of the population. Typically, urban and rural areas have the highest rates of food insecurity, the USDA said.

“A city and region with so many residents unable to afford a full supply of food isn’t truly free,” Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg said in a statement. “The cost of ending hunger isn’t nearly as high as the cost of accepting mass hunger, since hunger makes it more difficult for children to learn, workers to work, and older Americans to stay independent,” he added.

The hunger rate rising should come as no surprise to observers in the city, since hardship in general in Philadelphia is “out of step” with national trends, the Inquirer said. While the U.S. poverty rate dropped from 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent from 2016 to 2017, Philadelphia’s is at 25.7 percent, the highest poverty rate among the ten most populous U.S. cities. While the national median income rose about $2,000 to $59,039, Philly’s dropped about $2,000, to $39,759.

Ending hunger in Philadelphia would cost $158 million per year, Hunger Free America calculated, by looking at the difference between what non-food-insecure people spend on food and what food-insecure people spend. Berg believes that no charity could afford to spend that year after year, so “the focus…should be on creating jobs, raising wages, and ensuring an adequate safety net,” he told the Inquirer.

Hunger Free America also notes that food insecurity in New Jersey and Delaware fell as food insecurity statewide in Pennsylvania rose. The minimum wage in Delaware is $8.25 per hour, $1 more than it is in Pennsylvania (although government employees make $12.20). The minimum wage in New Jersey is $8.44 per hour.

Wages might not solve the whole problem. The nonprofit Feeding America calculated that nationally, of the roughly 12 percent of the population that’s food insecure, only 53 percent have incomes that qualify them for SNAP, or food stamps, and a full 27 percent make enough money that they qualify for no federal aid at all.

Donald Trump has called for work requirements to be attached to food stamps, which could lead to higher food insecurity rates and would hurt low-income workers whose employers don’t guarantee hours, experts say.

 



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