Five reasons to care about development without displacement

“How do we make our neighborhoods good places to live, without making them expensive places to live?”

That’s the question that the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities is trying to answer. Circle of Hope, through our compassion team Development Without Displacement, is part of this coalition. We want to make Philadelphia a great place to live Our team has about a dozen of people on it, and we are on a coalition with dozens more people and organizations. We’re doing good work together. We are working in line with our proverb: generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.

We want to love our neighbors and touch our neighborhoods. We want them to be good places to live, that the poor among us need. We want to expand and protect affordability in neighborhoods impacted by gentrification. We are using every tool at our disposal, and that includes the politicians in City Hall. We have developed a good relationship with them after our manifestly successful Take Back Vacant Land campaign which put the 40,000 vacant parcels into the biggest land bank in our nation. We’ve got a hot fire, so we’re gonna keep cooking!

Practically, we are trying to get more money into the hands of people who are going to advocate for affordable housing. We want those committed to and invested in the neighborhoods to stay in them. We have them to be diverse, healthy, and equitable. We need your help!

Here are my top five reasons why you may want to support the work of our team:

  • Jesus would and does! Are we really following Jesus if we don’t advocate for the least of these? For the widows and orphans, as James notes. Jesus tells us that, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” He is interested in people following Him, both being and doing. In Luke 6, he asks the rhetorical question, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” He goes on to say in the same chapter, “the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.” The call from Jesus is clear: we need to do more than profess his name and assent to the right theology. We need to act for justice and do it in His name. This kind of work transforms the whole world.
  • Doing it with others emboldens are witness too. We often get asked about how we are working with other churches and other organizations. This team is exhibit A. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we are getting on board with a group of people. It’s fun to meet new friends and do something together.
  • We need our legislators to consider those in the greatest need. Too often our city gives tax breaks and green lights to corporations like Comcast and big developers. Our officials need to consider the city’s seemingly intractable problem of poverty as well. The need is great too. Philly is one of the poorest cities in the country with a 27 percent poverty rate, and a 45 percent poverty rate among women-headed families. Meanwhile, in 2013, 2800 new housing units were developed.
  • When neighborhoods become good places to live, everyone benefits. Let’s start with the children. Our public schools improve when our neighborhoods are built for actual life—the neighborhood I live in is nearly amenity-less. We have a surplus of student housing and not much else. When they are built for families, they tend to get more expensive, but if we balance that development with affordable housing—public services, like schools, improve and everyone gets in on it. Moreover, if schools are good, there won’t be a rush to move out once junior turns five.
  • We are more than principled, we’re thoughtful. With more and more Philadelphians moving this town—which is great!—we want to make it a hospitable place to live for everyone. Gentrification is a complicated subject—good schools lead to more expensive neighborhoods, almost invariably. Sometimes the benefactors of it are homeowners in a depressed neighborhood. The legislation we advocate will take those nuances into consideration.

This is a process, so get on board and stay on board. We think it will take three years to form the legislation, and pass it through City Council. Here’s what you can do: join our team (contact me personally), join us at our next event, pray for us, and tell your council person you care about the issues.

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