Memo to Donald Trump: Want to Fix Our Crumbling Inner City Neighborhoods? Here’s How.

Philadelphia Mural Arts

Relocating Federal workers to inner city neighborhoods is one way to help revitalize those neighborhoods and stimulate much needed investment. Federal tax credits would also help …

America has one of the highest poverty rates in the industrialized world.  It is a living tragedy and a national disgrace, as TDV wrote recently.  Much of the poverty is located in rural areas, including Appalachia, the deep South and Southwest.  But many big cities also have high poverty rates, including Philadelphia, which ranks among the most poverty stricken urban areas in the country.

And yet in Philadelphia and other big cities it sometimes feels like a Tale of Two Cities.   Millennials are moving back and downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are booming.  Travel outside the downtown areas, however, and you will still find sections of the city that time forgot, with vacant houses, potholed streets and dilapidated buildings.

Donald Trump has called for increased investment in our inner cities, labelling them “ghettos” and  a “disaster.” He has also been roundly criticized, and rightly so, for overstating how bad things really are.

In many urban neighborhoods, there is a resilience and vibrancy that is easy to miss if you don’t get out of your car.  The “drug bazaars” of old are largely gone; crime is down, and commercial areas are coming back in many areas.

But Trump is right about one thing:  the infrastructure of many urban neighborhoods is in bad shape and now is a good time to invest, to build on the progress that has been made in reducing crime and revitalizing commercial districts.

But we need to throw out the old playbooks, think more creatively, and develop more comprehensive approaches.  These include, in addition to rebuilding infrastructure, attracting business, fixing the often broken school systems and providing quality support services including low and moderate income housing, job training and child care.

A good way to start the ball rolling is to move government agencies into those neighborhoods.  Such an approach provides an economic anchor that can be used to better deliver services while attracting additional investment and jobs.

One model is the Sharswood / Blumberg Transformation Plan in North Philadelphia where the Philadelphia Housing Authority intends to locate it headquarters, anchoring a revitalizing commercial district including low and moderate income housing and rehabilitated public schools.

But why limit it to just local agencies? How  about moving Federal agencies to our inner cities?  Such as approach was recently proposed by Fred Kupiec, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Many towns and cities across America would welcome the economic development and stability that accompanies a well-paid federal-agency workforce like the FBI or the Labor Department. The expense of managing the federal government should be used to spread wealth beyond the nation’s capital and revitalize the economies of America’s ailing cities.

The Federal government should also provide tax credits to those who build affordable housing in our inner cities.  The burden for providing credits to stimulate investment in our inner cities falls too heavily on local governments whose budget is already strained by a diminished tax base and high demand for services.

Let’s hope Donald Trump keeps his word.  Our inner cities can use the help, and it is long past time for the Federal government to do its bit.