Start date: Spring 2015
End date: Fall 2015
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Partner: Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority was founded in 1945 to address blight and abandoned properties as city residents migrated to the suburbs. PRA’s mission charged them with “leveraging the City’s assets to provide redevelopment opportunities, and also create and preserve affordable housing, and improve quality of life.”
Created in 2001 by Mayor John Street, the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) funded $296 million towards “land assembly and condemnations, demolition, management information systems, housing and neighborhood preservation, and vacant property stabilization.” This amounted to the demolition, acquisition, and/or construction of roughly 5000 properties and involved relocating 408 residents. The question now is, did it work? Did demolitions of vacant properties spur development in those neighborhoods? Has the quality of life improved? These and other questions, we are beginning to answer.
NTI: Goals and Response
In Major John Streets’ words, “NTI is not a singular program, nor is it a demolition project. NTI is a five-year strategic plan to preserve and build healthy communities throughout the city.”
At its outset, 5 primary goals set the course for the NTI program:
Goal 1: Planning: Facilitate and support community-based planning and the development of area plans that reflect citywide and neighborhood visions.
Goal 2: Blight elimination: Eradicate blight caused by dangerous buildings, debris-filled lots, abandoned cars, litter and graffiti to improve the appearance of Philadelphia streetscapes.
Goal 3: Blight prevention: Advance the quality of life in Philadelphia neighborhoods with a targeted and coordinated blight prevention program that enforces city codes and abates public nuisances.
Goal 4: Assembling land for redevelopment: Improve the City’s ability to assemble and dispose of land for redevelopment and establish a Land Bank that will oversee the continual maintenance of such land over time.
Goal 5: Neighborhood investments: Stimulate and attract investment in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
Goal 6: Leveraging resources: Leverage resources to the fullest extent possible and invest them in neighborhoods strategically.
NTI by the Numbers
The results of this report are not publicly available, and neither is the data, although it may be requested through a FOIA request. We will describe the types of information this study examined, but cannot report actual values.
We looked at NTI budget records, Department of Records mortgage transfers, and Licenses and Inspections demolition records during this period to capture the total spending on demolitions and homeownership (PRA backed subsidized loans for affordable and market-rate homes). We focused on three of NTI’s largest projects representing activity in Lower North, South, and West Philly. These projects represented large-scale acquisitions, demolition of buildings acquired or already owned by the City, and construction/rehab properties for homeownership, which were sold either as affordable housing based on the area’s median income or offered with subsidized mortgages. By combing through archived records of city parcels, we were able to map the distribution of these projects and quantify the total number of each type of project implemented.
By mapping every NTI demolition or construction/rehab, we could look at the distribution of spending among City Council districts. District 5, which encompasses most of the Lower North and snakes up to parts of Fairhill and the Lower Northeast, featured more than twice as much spending and projects as any other district. Districts 6 and 10 in the Northeast received by far the least attention. In no district was spending out of proportion with the number of projects. When aggregated by City Planning District, the principal areas of activity were West, Lower North, and North Philly.
Glance at Neighborhood Change
Finally we took a cursory glance at demographic changes where rising housing prices are combined with increased population of college-educated residents. Does the prevalence of NTI projects correspond to these large-scale changes? Does it matter if those projects are demolitions vs. homeownership? A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia evaluated “gentrification” in Philadelphia based on this metric: of those census tracts which were below the median city income in 2000, those that experienced both above-citywide median increase in housing prices (either median gross rent or median home value) and an above-citywide median % increase in college-educated residents. It is important to note that while the study goes on to examine displacement of longtime or low-income residents by gentrification, this metric on its own does not speak to that.
We used the Federal Reserve’s metric to classify each Census tract according to whether it was gentrifiable (conditions from 1990-2000) and whether it was gentrifying (changes from 2000-2013). NTI demolition projects and homeownership projects were aggregated at the Census Block Group level, separately. We then looked at the proportion of parcels within that block group that were either a demolition or homeownership project (separately) and the proportion of the block group’s area made up of all parcels. Geographically weighted multiple regression analysis examined whether there was a relationship between the rate of demolition or homeownership projects within block groups with the demographic change characteristics of its containing Census tract. Not surprisingly, NTI projects are most prevalent in low-income census tracts. We also found that NTI homeownership construction properties are more dense in low-income tracts that experienced demographic change from 2000-2013 than in all low-income tracts, indicating that the homeownership projects may boost neighborhood revitalization.
In these maps, block groups are shaded green to red by the proportion of parcels with that type of NTI project. Census tracts in red were low-income areas that experienced demographic change, aqua means low-income but did not experience demographic change, and grey outlines areas that were not low-income.