I live in Kensington.  I know what blight looks like.  I want it gone.

I decided several years to buy a house in Kensington.  The first words people told me when I shared this?  You’re nuts.

But… I live in a community where many neighbors have lived generations in the same neighborhood.  Incomes are wildly divergent.  Crime has gone down.   Some residents leave their front doors open and unlocked in the summer.  My favorite local bar, Luke’s, welcomes everyone–whether they’ve recently moved in or their family traces its roots in the neighborhood back to the 1880’s.

We do have a tremendous amount of blight, but slowly but surely the communities within Kensington have been battling it.  I have educated hundreds of my local neighbors in how to research property and how to detect when they are being fed bullshit by City employees and officials, and how to get results.

Our civic associations have grown in membership and in influence because many of my neighbors and residents in Kensington share the same feeling:  if we don’t address property issues first, then all the other problems like crime, schools and paying for services won’t be fixed.

Spring '04 Tax Delinquency Map

Spring ’14 Tax Delinquency Map

I have made the City care about tax deadbeats

One of my core issues with the City of Philadelphia is its failure to efficiently collect the Real Estate Tax.  I have watched as Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed and secured one property tax hike after another and has now proposed yet another 9% spike in the Real Estate Tax.

This map I produced last year really drove the point home with real estate tax deadbeats.  There are a LOT of them.

I worked with reporters like Patrick Kerkstra from the Inquirer to bring this information to light, so teachers facing pink slips and the general public have the ability to ask the question: “Hold up, you’re cutting my school.  You’re raising my taxes.  Why aren’t you going after the deadbeats?

I have testified before City Council in 2013 as the tax delinquency issues were rising because of looming school closures.

Our own mayor likes to talk about how he’s going to get tough, and when Michael Nutter gave us lip service about how he was going to go after deadbeats,  I watched.  I saw very little improvement.

So, I outed Michael Nutter to the world for being a deadbeat with the gas company.

He didn’t like me very much after that.

I’m a transplant, but I’m here to stay

I’m originally from South Texas, in a very rural area between San Antonio, TX and the border with Mexico.   The community I grew up in is primarily Hispanic, lower working-class, bi-lingual, and economically driven by agriculture and oil and gas.

I lived in San Antonio, the nation’s 6th largest city for many years.  I took things like good public schools in urban cities for granted.  I graduated K-12 in a rural school system with a catchment roughly half the size of the state of Connecticut.  Many of the schoolchildren in my classes were from poor or migrant families, but we got a great education from the State of Texas and many kids I went to school with went off to join the military and graduate college.  I went off to become a systems engineer.   There were no private school options where I grew up.   There was only one school system, or you moved out of your house and into San Antonio if you wanted a private school.

When I moved to Philadelphia I was shocked by several things:

  • How people self-segregate by race and class into specific neighborhoods (San Antonio is the most self de-segregated top 10 city in the United States).  Where I came from, the distance from work and the crime rate determined where you would choose to live.  I can’t remember any of my old friends from Texas getting hung up on whether or not their potential next door neighbors would have lower incomes, or be of a difference race.   You don’t worry about public schools because they’re all decent.  You move into an area because you like the house–that’s it.
  • That Philadelphia has only one gigantic school district, whereas San Antonio has over a dozen districts, all of which are owned by the state and have locally-elected school boards.
  • That paying your property taxes in Philadelphia is optional and it will take years before the City will demand that you pay up.
  • That our City will only fix a problem if you gang up with a bunch of neighbors and scream incessantly until they have no choice but to carry out duties they’re required to do as their job.

I know our city can get better because it has been happening, albeit painfully slowly.   I think of Kensington as my community now, and I love my neighbors.  I really wouldn’t care to live anywhere else in town.