GENTRIF*CKED

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.

PS — check out this video:

About Lorenzo Woodson 13 Articles
Dr. Lorenzo Woodson (Ph.D., MHS, CC, LBS) is a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autism spectrum. He lives in Germantown with his wife of 24 years, and lectures nationally for social causes. Lorenzo is a member of Men Who Care of Germantown. Connect with Lorenzo on Facebook or email him at lorenzowoodson@yahoo.com.

7 Comments

  1. How can you possibly consider Deke’s, a highly reputable caterer with one carry out stand after his other restaurant was sold, a bbq “chain”?

  2. I don’t know where to start. I am a lifelong resident of Gtown and I don’t appreciate you using “we” to imply that any long time neighbor is in agreement with your argument.. whatever that argument is. I am not clear on that. Gentrification is bad? I would disagree. Ken Weinstein is bad? Ok, let’s get Emmanuel Freeman back here and let him pick up where he left off. Ken is the first developer with conscience to come in here since I was born and it is crazy to me that you would bag on what he is doing.

    No one owns Gtown or any place for that matter. You can think you are the OG but there are white families that have been here for centuries and if we are going by seniority then they’ve got us beat by a lot. You can feel sad that the place you live looks different, but it is unreasonable to expect a place to stay the way you knew it forever.

    • Hello Derrick lets start off with its good that you are a lifelong resident as I am, so we share that in common lol. As for using “we” it is a pejorative term its not personal and should be taken as generally speaking. If you do not agree be more specific as to what you do not agree with. I did not imply anything pertaining to you personally and for you to think so is premature. As a matter of fact their are many who agree with the my points made. Your point about Emmanuel Freeman had his turn so why must you and others insist harping on the past. Germantown Settlement is no longer here so your point of reference is not significant for today. Now that is out of the way what is current is what Ken Weinstein is doing in Germantown particularly when he is swallowing up as many major properties he can make a deal on. My question as a long-time resident is Why is Ken Weinstein buying up significant properties where most of the Germantown is 89 percent of African decent? I am all for change but this type change seems to tip the scales, how does one person or organization seem to have access to financing in an all African descent. I will tell you how he is and others like him seemed to have access, its called privilege and access to land in most cases it is economic discrimination. Look around Germantown, many folk of African descent have visions to own property and land but the banks in Germantown will only go so far to loan or finance a business of African descent. Germantown is 89 percent African descent with three major banks. Do you mean to tell me only one man (Philly office retail) out of the 89 percent of African descent population, who is white, gets to rule and purchase a significant portion of Germantown properties and rent them at prices above the average monthly income of most residents of Germantown is your hope and savior. I don’t think so someone is benefitting from Gentrification and OZ while others do not feel the financial growth from it in their pockets or in land acquisition.

  3. Dr. Woodson should fact check his article before publishing. Not one of our six current Wayne Junction projects uses Federal Opportunity Zone (OZ) incentives because the buildings were purchased prior to 2018. All of our projects already include local management and contractors, despite not receiving any incentives to do so. And small businesses are already entitled to OZ benefits. OZs are not for developers only. I agree with Dr. Woodson’s concern about gentrification which is why we target vacant, deteriorated buildings, for adaptive reuse, that don’t displace people.

    • Thank you for jumping in! This seems an important narrative to correct — it’d be awesome to do a follow-up article using Dr. Woodson’s piece as a jumping-off point to clarify some misconceptions about Development in Germantown. What do you think?!

  4. I would say Germantown high school is our biggest concern . They took away an opportunity for the community and are not here and don’t care. But I don’t think we have had good councilpeople either.

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