But rarely does an election require a negative vote, which is exactly what’s needed to defeat the NCNID. To do so, according to the bill, 51 percent of property owners must vote against it—a practice required of all potential NIDs in the city. And because residents aren’t allowed to vote at all, rarely does an election exclude so many voters.
This raises a red flag with Gerald Frug, a Harvard law professor who has studied improvement districts in Philadelphia. He says NIDs represent 19th-century America, when only property owners—many of whom don’t live in the area—could vote. “We are supposed to have a one-person, one-vote system,” he says. “But NIDs aren’t organized that way. They’re set up to benefit developers, not the residents.”
Barbara Ferman, a political science professor at Temple University with an emphasis in urban politics, says NIDs generally work well, but admits they have one specific flaw: “Why isn’t the city already providing these services?”
Still, Ferman says, “it’s not like [they] are impacting everyone economically … [but] they benefit everyone.”
Regardless, finding someone who can galvanize the entire neighborhood is a challenge for any community—and an obvious win for any councilmember.
“I have no problem with NIDs if they do it right,” says Abdel Ghalayini, a landlord who owns nine properties within the proposed area. “But where the money will go? There isn’t any guarantee, any specifics about how often they’ll pick up the trash. There isn’t any specifics about where or how many public safety patrollers there will be. Why pay when you don’t know what you’re getting out of it?”
Lenny Deich, who manages two properties around Temple, says he doesn’t have faith that the NID will spend the money properly. “I just don’t believe it, it’s just disgusting this can happen.”
Both Ghalayini and Deich say that if the NID is passed, they will most likely pass down the additional cost to their tenants, many of whom are students. While Ghalayini is cautious to trust the NID, he says the city’s efforts to make students pay for improvements is off base. “Lots of things caused vacant lots, but not students,” he says.
Pizzola says students’ lifestyles are exactly why the NID is needed: “The loud parties, the trash, taking up parking—it all degrades the life of the community,” he says. “A Neighborhood Improvement District would help the residents’ life improve.”
“I don’t know if it degrades, I wouldn’t use that word,” says William Carter, chief operational officer for Clarke, who did not return repeated requests for comment. “But it inundates. There’s been a housing boom in the area because, we’ve noticed, Temple is becoming less of a commuter school. [The NID is] about improving the relations of students and residents.”
The steering committee is a self appointed group of developers seeking power from the city to tax and to place liens on property owners who fail to pay the tax to them. This is not a voluntary association; it is empowered by the city to collect taxes on every property owner as defined by the steering committee whether they agree or not with the NID.
The law in question is the 2004 “Yorktown Special District Controls” ordinance, written specifically for the North Central section of the city. The law holds, after years of tensions between students and neighbors, that Temple kids simply aren’t allowed to live in certain areas of North Central.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide