We’re continuing our roundup of all things 2018 this week with a look back at some of this year’s biggest news stories, and there’s a lot to work with.
Tons of important news came out in Philly this year, from the opening of the long awaited Rail Park, to all the Amazon buzz, to The Met renovations.
But for the purposes of this roundup, we wanted to look at the most controversial stories this year. Which ones were talked about and debated the most? Which have a lasting impact on policy and the structure of the city going forward? And which drew the most comments from readers?
So behold, seven of the most talked-about stories of 2018, all of which fell within Curbed Philly’s area of coverage. If you remember a hotly debated story that didn’t make the list, leave a comment and we may add it in.
Also, you can check out more of our 2018 coverage here.
The great Amazon HQ2 decision
It would be fair to dub 2018 the year of the Amazon buzz. After CEO Jeff Bezos announced he would be opening a second Amazon headquarters and named Philly as one of the potential spots (along with 19 other contenders) earlier this year, the news stayed on the forefront of everyone’s minds.
City and state officials referenced Amazon when opening the new Callowhill Rail Park; council members made a special provision in a construction tax bill, exempting potential Amazon spots; and readers online speculated how the move could affect transit and housing prices.
But that all came to an end just last month when news broke that Philly wouldn’t be getting the new headquarters. Instead, Amazon HQ2 would be divided between New York City, and a city just outside of D.C. Still, Philly Mayor Jim Kenney credited the buzz with putting Philly in the “national spotlight.”
Philly home values spike
In one of the more shocking stories this year, the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) released their annual report of city property values, which showed the average single-family home price rising by 10.5 percent, according to an analysis by Philly.com.
The news was scary for many Philly homeowners, due to the effect that it would have on property taxes, especially in areas northwest of the city—around Chestnut Hill— and south of Center City—like Point Breeze and Lower Moyamessing—all of which saw increased property taxes.
In response to the news, council members questioned OPA’s method for determining home values, and introduced a bill to give council members the final say on property assessment. They also called for an audit of property assessments.
The construction tax bill—and all its iterations
One of the most hotly debated bills (really, a package of bills) in front of City Council this year was the construction tax bill. Introduced this spring, the bill is a version of councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez’s 2017 mixed-income housing bill, which was never passed.
The construction tax bill aimed to put more money toward affordable housing in the face of rising high-end developments across the city. It proposed levying a one percent construction tax on all new developments, with the money from that tax going to the housing trust fund (HTF). A second bill, which would work in tandem with the first, proposed creating a sub fund for the revenue generated by that tax. The money would be used to fund housing for people making up to 120 percent of Philly’s median income, meaning anyone making less than $105,000 a year.
Ever since it was announced this spring, the bill had a lot of supporters, and a lot of ardent opponents. Some were upset that the bill didn’t really generate money for affordable housing and for Philly’s poorest. Others thought that it would deter big companies and big projects from building in the area (namely, Amazon). You can read a rundown of the bill’s history, its supporters, and its opponents here.
Nevertheless, council passed the bill this spring, and it went in front of Mayor Kenney who—many speculated—might veto the bill for the first time in his turn as mayor.
Instead, in a last-minute meeting, Kenney and City Council reached a compromise, which involves appropriating $53 million from the general fund, and implementing an inclusionary zoning bill. The bill will give height, density, and size bonuses to developers who include affordable housing units in their construction. Developers can give money straight to the HTF in lieu of actually including the units.
That money from the inclusionary zoning bill, along with the promised general fund money would bring in about $71 million over the next five years, but council members and the mayor disagree on whether that number is a ceiling or a floor.
The new compromise was passed this fall. Suffice to say, it’s been a big year for that package of bills.
Will Made in America stay on the parkway?
Stepping away from City Council news for a minute (don’t worry, we’ll be back), one of the most debated pieces of news this year involved Jay-Z, the mayor’s office, and that wildly popular festival, Made in America.
In July BillyPenn first reported that the popular festival, which has been held on the parkway and hosted by the rapper since 2012, would be moving to a different location, possibly out of Philly entirely. The response was swift and loud. Jay-Z penned an open letter about the news in the Philly Inquirer before his representatives met with people from the mayor’s office. They agreed to keep the festival on the parkway, chalking the whole thing up to a miscommunication.
But miscommunication or not, the news spurred a lot of talk about the future of the concert—should it remain on the parkway? Should it stay in Philly? How does it affect transit and commerce?Read more on readers’ thoughts here.
Changes to LOOP
Since 2014, the Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP) has been a major player in many Philly homeowners’ lives. Sometimes called the “gentrification protection program” Loop gives tax abatements to homeowners who have lived in their place for at least ten years, and have seen property taxes triple in one year. The goal is to protect Philly residents who are watching their neighborhood swiftly change around them.
And this year was a big one for the program. First, council members passed an amendment in April that erased a limit on the program. Originally, homeowners could only benefit from LOOP for 10 years, but the spring amendment ensures residents can be safe from rapidly rising property taxes for a lifetime.
Secondly—and more recently—Council President Darrell Clarke proposed another amendment to LOOP this month, which would lower the property tax stipulation. Instead of applying to homes with taxes that have tripled in one year, it would apply to homes that have seen a tax increase of 150 percent. That would make the program more accessible to more Philadelphians across the city. It was only proposed recently, and hasn’t even been discussed yet, but it will be on the agenda when council comes back from its break in 2019.
The demolition of the Christian Street Baptist Church
One of the most controversial stories this year had nothing to do with council bills or taxes, but rather with the historic preservation of Philly churches, namely the Christian Street Baptist Church in Bella Vista. The church’s congregation was unable to maintain upkeep in the summer of 2017 and sold the church to developer Ori Feibush, founder of OCF Realty
Feibush announced plans to tear down the church and put up two townhomes with four floors and eight residential units. The news sparked a lot of pushback from the community and preservationists until Feibush sold the space to an unnamed buyer this summer. The demolition continued and the place was officially torn down within the month.
Passing the ‘Good Cause’ bill
The “good cause” bill, introduced by councilman Curtis Jones Jr. last year, is arguably one of the most discussed housing-related bills this year. Not just because of how it will affect renters and landlords, but also because of the light it shines on Philly’s staggering eviction rate. That rate is such a problem in the city that Kenney put together a task force to deal with the crisis. They returned with a report finding that one in every 14 households in the city faced eviction last year alone.
Jones has argued that part of that problem is due to the rate of unfair evictions; landlords putting their tenants out on the street often swiftly and without just cause. Under the original “good cause” bill, a tenant would have to habitually skip rent payments, fail to follow the lease agreement, or cause property damage.
The bill has undergone some substantial changes this year, before it passed unanimously this month. While the bill has the same language regarding what amounts to “good cause,” it no longer applies to all tenants. Now it only applies to tenants with less than a year long lease, something that several speakers objected to during the bill’s final reading two weeks ago.