As with most controversies, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Joyce Dennis, an assistant in Paley Library, occupies that uncertain middle ground. She was looking for a home with more space than what she had previously owned in Logan, a neighborhood north of Temple Hospital. But Center City and the suburbs weren’t options.
“I believe in living within my means,” she said. “So I wasn’t about to move up into Chestnut Hill.”
It is situations similar to Dennis’ that reveal the flaw in absolutist thinking on gentrification and university expansion.
Dennis, who has recently closed on a home in Nicetown, was one of only a few Temple employees who took advantage of the Employee Home Ownership Program, where workers can get forgivable loans from the university for homes bought within its surrounding neighborhoods.
President Ann Weaver Hart announced the loans last October as part of an effort to strengthen Temple’s broad community, as reported by The Temple News [“Hart gives incentives for housing in local area,” Sam Benesby, Oct. 9, 2007].
Some say the program, which requires that the recipient remain in the home for five years, is at the expense of the local community, but the loans will probably be largely beneficial, due to the economic situations of many of the employees themselves.
Yes, the university is helping these employees obtain houses in neighborhoods they might not otherwise live in, but they are largely working-class people.
When Dennis talks about “a Temple salary,” it is as a euphemism for having to live within your means, as she put it.
If the neighborhoods that surround Temple were to become attractive to senior administrators of the university, housing costs would have to have skyrocketed, unless significant restrictions were set forth by city government.
At that point, the benefits and detractions are debatable.
But senior administrators, deans and professors are not flocking to Temple’s surrounding neighborhoods, for reasons I do not need to discuss.
In fact, the speed at which employees are moving here is fairly slow: only seven employees have taken loans so far.
Maintenance workers and food court cashiers are rarely considered wealthy, but they remain Temple employees nonetheless, and perhaps the most likely to use this program.
The point is that Temple employees, many of whom are working-class, can afford homes that they might not have been able to before. That is not gentrification.
Here, Temple made the right choice.
Stephen Zook can be reached at email@example.com.