Temple made citywide news last week with the announcement of their Employee Home Ownership Plan, an incentive program designed to entice employees to buy real estate in the area around the university.
Modeled after a similar plan launched by the University of Pennsylvania in 1998, Temple and the city will partner to provide matching loans and grants of up to $5,000 toward the purchase of a primary residence. Because Temple is following in the footsteps of its Ivy League brother, the plan is not exactly trailblazing, but it is long overdue.
Temple is easily the largest and most important economic force in North Philadelphia, and every effort must be made to harness the full potential of the institution. Temple has already encouraged private investment to accommodate student needs in the form of Avenue North, the Edge and other private housing complexes and businesses. By attracting outside investment to feed off the massive student body, businesses began to flourish in the long dormant streets of North Philadelphia.
The same attention must be paid to the thousands that are employed by the university. More than attracting apartment complexes and student geared businesses, this housing program will bring a solid base of homeowners in an area that has faced near-abandonment for decades. It happened in University City, and it can happen here.
The University City Example
Jim Flaherty, senior manager of economic development initiatives for the city government, is a key figure in making Temple’s Home Ownership Plan a reality. One of the biggest factors in convincing Temple to buy into the plan was the success of Penn’s nearly identical program, he said in an interview last week.
“In West Philadelphia you’ve seen something like 400 new homeowners in six years,” Flaherty said. “Considering the minimal cost of a program like this, this is a huge impact.”
Indeed, between 1998 and 2004 alone, 386 employees purchased homes in the Penn area. Forty percent of those homes were in low-income areas that had previously seen little real estate investment. The deal was attractive to employees who may not have otherwise bought a home in these areas because Penn offered low-interest loans to its employees, which undercut normal lending institutions. Also, because the plan was based around loans, the university made its money back, and continued lending to future homebuyers. Penn brought a stabilizing force into once declining areas and laid a foundation for future buyers.
It Needs to Happen Here
There are those who would say this program seeks to kick start gentrification in the poorer neighborhoods that surround our major universities, and this is probably true. Unfortunately, this is the only course of action left in North Philadelphia. Factories will never reopen; rowhomes won’t fill themselves. In straights as dire as those in the northern section of Philadelphia, we have to work with what is available. To ignore the collective wealth of the many professors, doctors and Temple staff is to miss a huge opportunity, and possibly the last for an area that is otherwise on its knees.
Rebuilding the residential population around Temple is critical for attracting more jobs and generating more tax revenue, two things that have been absent in North Philadelphia for all too long. The greatest shame may be that it was not enacted sooner.
Ryan Briggs can be reached at email@example.com.