Ever heard the term middle neighborhoods? If you haven’t, you have likely visited, lived in or driven through one more recently than you think.
Middle neighborhoods are communities on the edge of growth and decline. When we discuss middle neighborhoods we are describing neighborhoods that have four main characteristics: neighborhoods where homeowners can purchase real estate for an affordable rate, neighborhoods where crime rates are low, neighborhoods where school performance is sufficient, and neighborhoods where employment rates are adequate. Essentially, homebuyers in middle neighborhoods are willing to test the odds with the hopes that their neighborhood will improve rather than decline.
Middle neighborhoods are areas that are doing just well enough. We are not focusing as much resources or attention on these neighborhoods because we have yet to see an increased need to invest in these areas. However, if we aren’t careful these neighborhoods will teeter towards decline overnight.
In Philadelphia, over 40 percent of the population lives in middle neighborhoods. When talking about middle neighborhoods in Philadelphia’s 2nd Congressional District, we are referring to Mt. Airy, Germantown, West Oak Lane, Roxborough and Wynnefield.
I know firsthand what is at stake for America’s middle neighborhoods. I grew up in North Philly and today I live in West Oak Lane, just blocks away from Germantown High School, my alma mater.
Two main trends are contributing to decline in our middle neighborhoods. One, housing trends show that jobs are moving away from middle neighborhoods and second, many suburbs compete with new homebuyers for residents.
This brings us to the question: what are some ways we can counter these trends to help America’s middle neighborhoods?
As a former chairman of the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee, I fought hard to expand access to healthy, fresh foods for everyone in our city and across our state; and supported efforts to provide adequate funding for our public schools.
The first bill I introduced in the 115th Congress, the Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act of 2017, H.R. 922, would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow public school buildings to qualify for the rehabilitation credit which in turn would give our public schools the necessary resources and funds to make improvements to school buildings across the country.
In my district, Roosevelt Elementary School in East Germantown has not been updated in decades. How can we expect our students to better themselves when their classrooms are falling apart around them?
We need a public school system that supports the needs of our students, teachers and parents. Our students already have a lot on their plates, and shouldn’t have to worry about going to school on an empty stomach.
Thus, when we think about the issue of food insecurity in our middle neighborhoods, we need to look for ways to broaden access to fresh, quality, affordable foods for people in our most underserved areas.
During my time in the Pennsylvania state legislature, I championed Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which links public and private funds to expand and build grocery stores in food deserts across our state. Through the initiative we brought nearly 100 grocery stores to areas in Philadelphia and underserved areas across the commonwealth that previously had very limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Our middle neighborhoods need a clear lane in both our public policy and investment conversations. We need to be cognizant and incredibly vigilant as this relates to housing trends that are impacting our city.
Middle neighborhoods are home to real people like you and me. Now is the time to refocus, redistribute and reinvest our attention on building a policy agenda that puts America’s middle neighborhoods back on top.
Evans is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and represents Northwest, West, North, parts of South and Center City Philadelphia, Narberth and the western suburb of Lower Merion Township.