|This property on Rt. 291 is fast |
becoming the symbol of Chester's
desperate times. Photo: Paul Gargagliano.
Jake Blumgart wrote a chilling story of a Chester resident and his struggles obtaining decent housing in Chester. The story can be found on the Next City website. Below are a few excerpts from the long article. If I get enough comments requesting the entire article, I'll print it.
- Chester is what is known, in real estate industry jargon, as a “weak market city.” The phrase means what it sounds like. The city is poor and its economy stagnant. The median home sale price in Chester in 2012 was $20,000, compared to $69,350 in nearby Wilmington and $98,000 in Philadelphia. Fewer than half of Chester’s working-age adults are employed, and a third of the population is living at or below the poverty line. In a city where median rent is $790, 51.5 percent of households pay 35 percent or more of their income to their landlords.
- In 2012, there were 667 home sales in the city, but only 33 were purchased with a mortgage. (Investors generally finance their purchases through other means, so comparing mortgages to total sales is a reliable way to measure owner-occupancy.) Nationally about half of home sales are completed without a mortgage, but in Chester the proportion is nearer to one mortgage for every 20 sales.
- “In Chester, [the term] slumlord has to be used very selectively to maintain the value of the word,”...
- Many of the landlords he comes into contact with aren’t bad people, he says, they are simply unprepared to provide housing for an incredibly high-need population.
- With very little property tax revenue coming in to City Hall, the single city inspector charged with making sure properties meet code regulations is stretched thin.
- Everything changes for those low-income renters who manage to make it on the Chester Housing Authority rolls. The CHA serves 2,366 families, about 8,000 people. More than half of these households — 1,566 families — receive Section 8 vouchers, which don’t have to be used within city limits but often are.
- In an age when innovation and entrepreneurship are the buzzwords that get cities’ attention, it’s easy to overlook the power of well-run legacy public agencies like housing authorities. Yet in Chester, no one developer has done as much to improve the city as the CHA has. Higher-profile projects such as PPL Park, the soccer stadium for the Philadelphia Union (supported by $77 million in public subsidies), that was supposed to “change the face of Chester forever,” in the words of then-governor Ed Rendell, have done far less for the city’s residents.
- Cities like Chester are, after all, the reason government got involved in the housing market in the first place. “In most cities at most times, public housing provides a better alternative than private-sector housing in poor neighborhoods,” writes Edward Goetz in New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice, and Public Policy. But federal the government long ago abandoned the idea of building more project-based public housing, and today even its cheaper alternatives, like Section 8 vouchers and low-income housing tax credits, are stunted by Congress.