Dr. Woodson’s pissed about new tax breaks for wealthy investors opening the door for too much change in Germantown.
Opportunity Zones! What a nice ring to that, right? Tax man says Germantown is a land of opportunity now – parts of us, at least. See if you can guess which parts?
If you said “Parts that are quickly gentrifying” ding ding ding give yourself a star. Also, get the hell out.
Because gentrification isn’t for you or me or any of us who grew up here or came here seeking real life in a real Philly neighborhood with roots and history. Sure we’re a little rough around the edges but if you stick around you could cry from all this beauty. People and places and the food! If your idea of improving the neighborhood is bringing a BBQ chain in from Manayunk, then you better wake up and smell the smoked brisket on my block. Or any block. Gtown’s BBQ would beat the brakes off Manayunk’s.
But these Opportunity Zones aren’t about giving people from the neighborhood opportunities. They’re for bringing opportunities – big capital investors – from the outside in. These corporate machines use profits they made in other ventures that would normally be taxed, and invest them into these targeted zones for “improvements” such as new construction and massive rehabs. The idea is, obviously, to stimulate the economy for everyone by letting rich people keep much more of their money than they normally would on such projects.
Rich people love this idea but does it work? If you said “Yes” then give me that star back. No, they don’t work. And we’ve been trying them since the 80’s and they were “Enterprise zones” then under Clinton they became “Empowerment zones” and then Obama’s administration called them “Promise zones” but after 40 years of giving giant tax breaks to billionaires, exhaustive studies in the UK and US indicate they ultimately have “little to no positive impact.”
On top of that, in most cases these tax incentive “zones” are areas that are booming already. In NYC, for example, there are Opportunity Zones in Lower Manhattan! That’s tax breaks for some of the most expensive real estate in the world! Here in Germantown, Wayne Junction‘s Opportunity Zone around the train station is undergoing incredible development much to the Establishment’s delight.
Tell me how will the average home owner truly benefit from living in an Opportunity Zone?
Is your property value going to increase to match that shiny new construction around you? Or will you sell to a developer for a pittance, and he’ll knock down your family home to build a soulless box that brings him half a million dollars?
If you took even one second to answer that, slap yourself and wake up! The wealthy are using our taxes to make a quick buck while turning our neighborhood into some weird-ass idea of what they think Gtown should be. And then they wonder why we’re so reactive when they drag a diner from Connecticut to our “Opportunity Zone!”
Developers can’t just barge in here with their tax-free money, doling it out to all their buddies while we shuffle off into the sunset for their convenience. This is Germantown. We’re activists! We have demands!
We should pressure politicians to include social components for all new Opportunity Zone development: minimum requirements for affordable housing units, for starters. And a percentage of local hires for construction and management. Small businesses should also receive tax breaks or incentives to invest in Opportunity Zones.
Anchor institutions like universities and hospitals need to step up to educate communities about what’s going on around them, and provide the tools they need to participate. Like this paper and Gtown Radio and The Hub and even the folks organizing cleanups while GSSD figures its shit out. Targeting under-resourced areas for economic growth is a great idea, let’s just get on the same page with solutions that include all of us.
Together, we can create an authentic, livable Germantown for everyone.