Philadelphia Could Hit the Brakes on Housing

With bills on the table to update its zoning code, Philadelphia may be poised to slow the pace of its housing construction.

1 minute read

May 24, 2019, 10:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

ChrisErb / Wikimedia Commons

"There is little doubt that Philadelphia's relentless housing boom (fueled by the 10-year property tax abatement) has run roughshod over some neighborhoods, destroying cherished architecture, driving up prices, and pushing out the poor and elderly," Inga Saffron writes. 

In response, City Council President and "longtime density skeptic" Darrell Clarke has introduced two bills that could put in check a construction spree dating to a 2011 update of Philly's zoning code. "The more significant of Clarke's bills would create a Council-controlled commission to review and update the zoning code" once again. 

Hardcore urbanists, Saffron writes, "fear that Clarke, who once boasted that he drives everywhere — even to the corner store — is determined to impose a suburban vision on Philadelphia." On the other hand, "the 2011 zoning code has been much more generous to developers and private interests than to the overall public good. Construction quality is so poor — even for so-called luxury housing — that it often seems like we are building the slums of tomorrow."

Saffron concludes with an argument that the real problem lies with the planning commission's lack of authority. Fixing that, she says, will let the city better negotiate big projects rather than leaving the task to volunteer-run Registered Community Organizations.

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