Valerie Russ, Philly, July 18, 2013
John Jackson swept the sidewalk outside his house in the late-afternoon sun. A huge American flag hung out front, where a lethargic brown-and-white beagle sat inside a fenced-off driveway and front yard filled with flowering trees and potted plants.
Jackson lives on Brown Street near 19th, in what has become the increasingly “hot” real-estate market of Francisville.
The neighborhood, for years predominantly African-American with some Latinos, has a growing number of newcomers, many of them white and Asian professionals, residents say.
Newer three-story houses tower over one-story homes built in the 1980s by the Philadelphia Housing Authority and bought by mostly black teachers, bank employees and government workers.
“We have been cheated,” said Jackson, a parochial-school administrator, who is black.
“We are paying the price for investment in this area where everybody who is buying here now will have a 10-year tax abatement, while our property taxes are being tripled.
“Our own kids will not be able to buy a home in this area, and that’s very disturbing.”
The gentrification of the 28-square-block neighborhood has made Francisville a prime example of the tensions and fears of higher property taxes that often accompany change in Philadelphia.
City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose district includes Francisville, said he wants to ensure that longtime residents aren’t forced out by higher taxes. He said a gentrification-relief law signed by Mayor Nutter on June 25 is aimed at helping them.
“Why should the people who have lived in these neighborhoods when it wasn’t fashionable have to move?” Clarke asked yesterday.
But Clarke has been a lightning rod for tensions in Francisville. Many developers say they are outraged that he has put a “hold” on the sale of all city-owned properties in the district, including at least 12 in Francisville.
Clarke said his main concern is to make sure some affordable housing remains in his district.
Francisville–bounded by Fairmount Avenue on the south, Girard on the north, Corinthian on the west and Broad Street on the east – is an old Philadelphia neighborhood.
Longtime residents say it always has been considered part of North Philly. But city Planning Commission documents began branding Francisville as part of Center City in the last couple of years.
“If you say North Philly, it has less cachet,” said a real-estate developer who asked that his name not be used. “But you can say Fairmount, Francisville and Northern Liberties. A lot of it is a psychological barrier, or cutoff points for white people.”
But some of the tensions aren’t just about paying higher taxes.
Black residents have clashed over the role of Giles, who also is black.
Giles and the FNDC board have long pushed for the economic revival of the Ridge Avenue business corridor. Giles’ rallying cry has been that “economic diversity” is necessary for the corridor to thrive.
But some black residents say they consider Giles a “traitor.” A few have accused her organization of helping “outsiders” buy property without giving longtime residents a chance to buy long-vacant lots.