Tax abatements don’t deserve blame for school woes

An opinion piece in the February 28 Chestnut Hill Local, “Tax abatements may help build houses, but don’t help build community,” accuses the City’s 10-year tax abatement program of being guilty of leaving behind the children and the staff of the public schools that they attend while cozying up to the wealthy. The author acknowledges that the abatement is credited as an infusion to the city’s economy or a helping hand to development, but argues that these benefits do not justify the abatement program.

A different perspective is provided in the March issue of Philadelphia Magazine in an interview with Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow at the Lindy Institute for Urban Revitalization at Drexel University. Gillen, perhaps the foremost real estate economist in Philadelphia, provides his view of what is happening in the market today. He found that in the past year, there were an unprecedented level of $1 million-plus home sales and that they were mostly houses, not the condos that had predominated in previous years. He also found a proliferation of $1 million-plus home sales in neighborhoods outside the traditionally expensive ones, in places like Mount Airy, East Kensington and Graduate Hospital, and the first $2 million-plus home sale in Roxborough.

Gillen found the real estate market to be in an unusual equilibrium of high sales volume, low inventory and flat prices. That is a very good “sweet spot” for the market to find itself and it’s likely that the 10-year tax abatement had a significant role in achieving it, as developers and renovators (full disclosure – I have qualified for abatements) brought more homes into the inventory. The abatement was one factor in attracting buyers – obviously not the only one, but significant nonetheless. The market for homes not enjoying the abatement did not suffer and it can be argued that it benefited the entire market.

If this market can proceed on a steady course through 2019-20, then everyone will be better off, including the children and the staff of public schools. There is a tendency to think that 10 years lasts forever, but not so. The abatement program has been around since 2000, and all the development occurring between 2000 and 2008 is now paying the full tax amount. One can seriously doubt how attractive the Philadelphia real estate market today would be had the abatement not happened. Would 25 to 50 $1 million-plus homes be sold each quarter without it? Seems unlikely.

If one takes a long-term perspective, the abatement is living up to its premise that this good idea would jump start development. To argue that it takes funds from children is to argue that the good is the enemy of the best. The real enemy is school budget underfunding, and the real culprit is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ignoring its court-mandated funding levels. That is where the time and energy need to be focused, and not on a program that provides continuing benefits to the city.

Edward W. Duffy
West Mt. Airy


Please support community in annual appeal

If you have not yet made a donation to the CHCA Annual Appeal, please consider doing so before March 31. Here’s why:

The Chestnut Hill Community Association is in its final weeks of our Annual Appeal and we are not close to achieving our goal to raise $100,000 to fund our neighborhood initiatives and activities.

We greatly appreciate those who have already contributed to the Annual Appeal. Many of you have been longtime supporters and some of you contributed for the first time. Thank you for your endorsement and commitment to the CHCA and its work.

Approximately 10,400 people live in Chestnut Hill. There are about 1,300 current household members of the CHCA. To date, 256 households and businesses have donated to Annual Appeal for a total of $33,295.00. We hope this letter will generate more support.

The CHCA is your advocate. It is the voice of our neighborhood experienced in dealing with the City of Philadelphia to get questions answered and issues addressed. Even when the CHCA doesn’t take a position on an issue, its knowledge assists residents in presenting their viewpoints.

CHCA members are a diverse group of people with the common goal of continuing to develop and maintain a stronger community. Events where neighbors can meet and interact informally together are an important intangible benefit. These activities promote personal interaction and strengthen the social fabric of Chestnut Hill.

None of this happens by chance.

The funds raised through the Annual Appeal help support many events and activities, including the Circle of Trees, Pastorius Park Free Summer Concerts, Friday Night Movies Under the Stars, the Holiday Parade, the Hoops Madness basketball tournament, and the important work of the Development Review Committees. Contributions also support CHCA community meetings and forums for residents to discuss issues important to the community.

The all-volunteer Board of the CHCA, an Executive Director and a part-time staff consisting of a Marketing & Promotions Director, Development Review Facilitator, Bookkeeper and Membership Coordinator work to make our community a desirable place to live, work and visit. They are assisted by community volunteers who help make CHCA’s activities and programs possible and successful.

Small membership organizations like the CHCA can’t sustain themselves simply by membership fees. We need additional financial support from our friends, neighbors and businesses to continue to serve the community well and expand our programs.

In addition to a strong financial situation, the work of CHCA volunteers and what they can accomplish is of great importance. Any member of the CHCA can join a committee or become a member of the CHCA Board. In fact, if you are interested in joining a committee or running for a seat in the upcoming election this spring, please check out our website or contact the CHCA office directly.

Again, we thank all who have contributed this year. We ask more current CHCA members and friends of Chestnut Hill to please make a donation. The strength and vibrancy of the community actually does depend on all of us.

Checks can be mailed to the CHCA at 8434 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118, or donate online at

Kathi Clayton and Susan Bray
Co-Chairs, CHCA Annual Appeal