Gwen Shaffer is behind the excellent cover story of this week's Philadelphia Weekly, which looks at the dichotomy between Center City's "renaissance" and the state of the rest of the city
But a fact that many Philadelphians would like to keep hidden in the shadows of the swanky condos is that 25 percent of our residents live at or below the poverty line, and some 115,000 Philadelphia renters scrape by on less than $20,000 a year. In what people are calling the next great American city, there's a whole lot of competition for the available 60,000 low-income housing units.
. . .
"Okay, so Philadelphia is cool," says Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, which hopes to increase wealth in low-income communities. "But the city is limited by an inability to fix the basics, like schools and public transportation. We can focus all our civic energy on bringing the Olympics here, but what we need to address is the murder rate."
She follows some cases that remind us how little it takes to slip from basic security toward homelessness, notes the alarming rise in people living on the streets in the last couple of years, and cites statistics showing a decline in jobs paying a living wage. She also credits the Philadelphia Housing Authority with improving conditions in its projects, but points to the long (and sometimes closed!) waiting lists for houses and subsidized apartments as signs that there's a long way to go.
[Jean Hunt, executive director of the Campaign for Working Families] isn't complaining about dance clubs like Denim or trendy stores like Urban Outfitters. "My adult children moved back to Philly," she says. "I want it to attract young people. But studies show you need to earn $17.83 an hour to afford the average home in Philadelphia today. Very few service jobs pay that kind of money."
Clearly it's great that Philadelphia's image is on the upswing. But it will take a lot of work and creative thinking to be sure that the improvements are felt by those on the lowest rung of the ladder too. The hype can't be allowed to get in the way of concrete planning.