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Lawsuit may clarify if city thinks ‘better’ is better than ‘good’

7/24/2014 | Real Estate Blog

A dispute over inner city development pits two seemingly complementary revitalization approaches against one another. On one side there is affordable housing; on the other, gentrification. On both sides are politicians trying to rebuild the troubled Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The dilemma is highlighted in a federal lawsuit filed by developer Ori Feibush against City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Feibush accuses Johnson of abuse of power and retaliation: Feibush plans to run for Johnson’s council seat this fall, and Johnson blocked the sale of two parcels Feibush had planned to purchase.

The developer also accuses Johnson of interfering with the bidding process for a larger tract of land in Point Breeze. Feibush claims he and his colleagues had the strongest bid, until Johnson began to coach another company and urged yet another to bid on the project. Feibush’s projects would have been more upscale than the affordable housing projects Johnson has favored.

Johnson has replied that the city’s Redevelopment Authority handled the bids on the second project. As for the first, he says the retaliation claim is entirely unfounded. He and his office have openly supported other Feibush proposals; the allegations are “totally false,” he said.

It is true that a district’s council member has a good deal of power when it comes to development proposals. Feibush is not questioning that Johnson and the other council members have that power, but he says Johnson is not using his power for good.

A court will decide which of the parties is more credible. The court cannot decide, though, whether the higher-end developments are better in Point Breeze — whether they restore the dignity of the area, as Feibush put it — or whether meeting the immediate needs of existing residents for housing that is clean, well-maintained and, above all, affordable. When is more expensive (“better”) housing better for the neighborhood than new affordable (“good”) housing?

Questions like this can only be answered by policymakers and the voters who elect them.

Source:, “Point Breeze developer sues Councilman Johnson in federal court,” Troy Graham (Philadelphia Inquirer), June 28, 2014