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Did that WSJ article on Philly’s housing market get it right?

The article put Philly’s affordable housing crisis in the spotlight and reactions were swift

New construction underway on Girard Avenue in Fishtown.
An article highlighting Philly’s housing market has drawn swift reaction.
Photo by Melissa Romero

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published an article running the headline, “You Got Priced Out of ... Philadelphia? The Spread of Hot Housing Markets”.

The protagonist at play was a white, single, middle-aged woman who makes $60,000 a year. Her dilemma: The hope of buying a house in Fishtown, consistently named one of the “hottest” neighborhoods in Philadelphia, have been dashed due to expensive home prices.

“It was kind of remarkable how much prices had gone up in that short period of time,” said Ms. Wilcox, 41 years old. “It’s crazy.”

This all at a time when a mixed-income housing or inclusionary zoning bill is under consideration with City Council that would require developers to include a certain amount of below-market or affordable housing units in their larger developments. The bill, proposed last year, is expected to be voted on by the council at the end of January.

“For now,” the article continued, “she pays $950 to rent a small house in a ‘shady’ part of Kensington.”

Not surprisingly, the article set off a firestorm of reactions across the nation and right here in Philly. Some applauded Philly, and other cities like Atlanta, for making moves to to get ahead of its affordable housing crisis.

But some zoning and urban policy experts argued that the WSJ article showed that Philly isn’t actually doing enough to address its middle-income housing affordability. In a blog post for Philadelphia 3.0, Jon Geeting writes that Philly is “too complacent” on this issue, arguing that the city’s tendency to downzone and prevent upward growth and density will only cause housing prices to continue to skyrocket.

But of the more negative reactions to article, the biggest issue seemed to be that the protagonist—a single, white woman making thousands more than the city’s median income—wasn’t exactly the best representation of who is dealing with the affordable housing crisis in Philly.

As the article rightly points out, Philadelphia’s poverty rate is just under 26 percent, which is the highest rate among the top 10 U.S. cities. Further, the city lost 20 percent of its affordable housing stock from 2010 to 2014 and a majority of its renters are cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

All this at a time when Philly’s housing market is on the rebound, hitting its lowest inventory of homes for sale last year, thus driving up home values even more.

But to some, the story really only scratches at the surface at what’s really at play here in Philly: A stubbornly deep poverty rate, a lack of affordable—and more so quality—housing, and the politics at play to address it.