The Case for a Gentrification Dividend

Christopher Sawyer asks if it’s ok for neighbors to extort developers for money:

Naturally, the upset neighbors on Rodman Street behind this lot appealed to Common Pleas court, where many other contentious zoning issues wind up. Earlier this month, Common Pleas denied the appeal in favor of the developer. The project can move forward.

But wait–there’s a new twist. Now the group of Rodman Street neighbors headed by Doug Risen are demanding cash to drop the next round of appeals at Commonwealth Court.

One has to ask: if you’re generally against a particular development, how genuine is your opposition to a project if you’re demanding cash in exchange for your support (or in this case, non-opposition)? That doesn’t sound very ethical to me.

I would put the question a somewhat different way: would a formal system of side-payments be less costly than having so many legal battles over development projects?

Building a lot more housing and mixed-use development would have broad-based benefits for the city and for neighborhoods,  but the immediate neighbors do incur some costs along with the benefits. A new apartment building on your block might mean more competition for on-street parking spaces, or obstructed views. Maybe the first-floor retail space becomes a hot new bar that everybody likes, except the neighbors who have to deal with more street noise on the weekends.

Instead of questioning how genuine a group of neighbors’ opposition to a new development is, I’d ask how much they value blocking it. People might genuinely oppose a new development, all else being equal, but they might decide they’re willing to live with it if they can get a cash payment.

I would argue that the only thing that’s really shady about the side-payment request Chris describes is the ad hoc nature of it. Formalizing side-payments between developers and neighbors would be a good idea that could potentially cut down on the amount of money people waste doing development politics in Philadelphia - legal costs, time costs, costs of foregone development, etc.

My favorite idea is the Gentrification Dividend. Give neighbors within a 1-2 block radius of a new building a portion of the tax increment the city collects from the new building. Whenever a new building gets added to the tax rolls, the city collects more property tax revenue. What if neighbors got some of that new revenue? Any time a new building goes up within 1-2 blocks of your building, you get a check in the mail from the city. Everybody gets the same amount, no questions asked.

This would create a constituency for more development, and sap some of the NIMBY energy opposing new housing construction. Right now there’s no immediate cost for the neighbors opposing new housing. But if the city started mailing out Gentrification Dividends, some of the opponents might decide they want cash more than they don’t want new development.

Four Young Progressives Needed for Bethlehem City Council Race

This sure would be a great year for 4 young progressives to take over Bethlehem City Council. Karen Dolan’s awesome and doesn’t deserve a primary, but I’d like to see 4 fresh faces to run against Eric Evans and for the 3 open seats being evacuated by DiGi, Jean Belinski, and then whoever wins the Donchez/Reynolds scrum.

Good Riddance to Fake Democrat David DiGiacinto

The Bethlehem Controller office could be pretty powerful in the hands of a same-party opposition politician like DiGi. He’ll get a soapbox for a bunch of political audits, and it’ll be a lot of fun for him. But it’ll be even better for everybody else because he mercifully will not be voting on anything related to development and business regulation issues anymore:

Bethlehem City Councilman David DiGiacinto announced plans this morning to run this year for city controller.

The Democrat is the first to declare his candidacy. Feb. 19 is the first day candidates in the May 21 primary election can circulate nomination petitions, due March 12.

DiGiacinto narrowly lost to former city Controller Meg Holland in 2007 in his first bid for the part-time position. Holland resigned last Jan. 31 for personal reasons. A panel of Northampton County judges in March selected Robert Pfenning controller through 2013. City council had been charged with the appointment but could not agree on a candidate from a field of three that included DiGiacinto until he withdrew in February.

Life Expectancy Going Down for Low-SES Groups

Here is why Social Security benefits should only grow and never be cut. Increasing life expectancy is often given as a reason for increasing the SS retirement age, but some groups who really rely on that stingy monthly check have actually been losing ground on life expectancy. Another big chunk of the oft-mentioned increase in life expectancy comes from more babies surviving birth, rather than people living longer.

From Health Affairs:

It has long been known that despite well-documented improvements in longevity for most Americans, alarming disparities persist among racial groups and between the well-educated and those with less education. In this article we update estimates of the impact of race and education on past and present life expectancy, examine trends in disparities from 1990 through 2008, and place observed disparities in the context of a rapidly aging society that is emerging at a time of optimism about the next revolution in longevity. We found that in 2008 US adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s. When race and education are combined, the disparity is even more striking. In 2008 white US men and women with 16 years or more of schooling had life expectancies far greater than black Americans with fewer than 12 years of education—14.2 years more for white men than black men, and 10.3 years more for white women than black women. These gaps have widened over time and have led to at least two “Americas,” if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership. The message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.women with 16 years or more of schooling had life expectancies far greater than black Americans with fewer than 12 years of education—14.2 years more for white men than black men, and 10.3 years more for white women than black women. These gaps have widened over time and have led to at least two “Americas,” if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership. The message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.