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It’s a wrap! 2020 Builders Conference a Virtual Success

Housing 3.0: Exploring the Next Era of Equitable, For-Profit Housing Development

With its long history of intractable poverty, Philadelphia knows the miseries of eviction. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing even more Philadelphians to the loss of their homes and, quite often, their possessions, jobs, and children's education. Eviction is also a direct pipeline to homelessness and foreclosures, especially jeopardizing small builders and landlords.

Yet paradoxically, the city’s housing sales market is at an all-time high, driven in part by the pandemic-related shift to working and quarantining at home.

These messages were delivered to more than 150 BIA of Philadelphia members who gathered virtually October 1 for BIA’s 19th annual Builders Conference.

“Eviction is not just a condition of poverty. It’s a cause of poverty and it’s making things worse,” said Dr. Matthew Desmond, a Princeton University sociologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

In conversation with Anne Fadullon, Philadelphia’s director of Planning and Development (and a former BIA president), Desmond drew a straight line from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining to other forms of housing discrimination to the pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Desmond also discussed the pros and cons of various proposed remedies to housing instability, including vouchers, incentives to build affordable housing, changes to the mortgage interest tax deduction, and eviction and foreclosure moratoria.

Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, reported that indicators for the city’s housing market remain strong, despite the pandemic. The median single-family house price in Philadelphia is up a staggering 9% so far this year and up 26% since the 2007 peak. (Condo prices are about steady this year, he added.) Applications for building permits are strong and inventories are low. “It’s a deep, deep sellers’ market,” Guillen reported.

He is equally bullish about the city’s future. Certainly there are concerns, he concedes, citing the current recession, its impact on state and city finances and overall uncertainty. But the work-from-home boom and enhanced productivity in the real estate industry – both due to the pandemic - are strong positive indicators for residential real estate. Said Gillen, “The death of cities has historically been greatly exaggerated.”

View Kevin's presentation slides here.

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