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    hammersklavier's Avatar
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    Default Gentrification in Philadelphia

    I finally found a beautiful long post I've been looking for for a little while on Skyscraper Page, wherein I talked about gentrification in Philadelphia. So here goes:
    The effects of gentrification are both good and bad. In my home city, there are four different types of gentrification on a chronological time scale:

    The first is gentrification a la Society Hill. In the '50s, this neighborhood was one of the worst slums in Philadelphia; Ed Bacon oversaw a master plan to improve the area. But it's gone from one end of the economic pendulum clean to the other; now Society Hill is one of the most upper-class neighborhoods in the city, and an almost entirely residential one to boot (not that this is a bad thing: Society Hill has proximity to the traditional shopping district of South Street). Very few gentrified neighborhoods, I think, even have the possibility of doing what Society Hill did.

    The second is a neighborhood that's been gentrifying for a long time, to the point where the excesses of gentrification outweigh the benefits. Manayunk is a good example of this. What was once a workingman's mill neighborhood was colonized by the gentrifiers in the '60s or '70s and has since gentrified into a neighborhood whose neighborhood retail consists of practically nothing but bars. It's been that way for some time, and since it's proximate to Chestnut Hill, one of the highest-class neighborhoods in the city, and it's become notorious as a college kids' hangout, I suspect it will stay the same for some time to come.

    The third is a "gentrified" neighborhood that was a slum in living memory. Most of the recently gentrified neighborhoods around Center City, e.g., Fairmount, Franklin Town, the Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Queen Village, Bella Vista, Hawthorne, G-Ho, University City, and Powelton Village, all fall into that category. They've gentrified enough to be worthy places for living, but haven't yet lost the local quality that makes them unique; Northern Liberties is a particularly proud example of this: its new Liberties Walk development is filled with nothing but small mom-and-pop style stores.

    The last is an "up-and-coming" neighborhood where the processes that drive gentrification can be seen to still be at work, places like Kensington, lower G-Ho, Brewerytown, Sharswood, Callowhill, Norris Square, and Germantown (and so forth); there are still lower-class elements in these neighborhoods, which actually makes them, in my opinion, more colorful (Norris Square BTW is trying to prove that the largest Hispanic neighborhood in the city can gentrify without needing to lose its Hispanic-ness). These are the neighborhoods that the "first type" of gentrifier previously mentioned tends to go for, whereas stable gentrified neighborhoods tend to be more the home of the "second type," more akin to the true yuppie.

    One more question comes to mind: what will the fate of most these gentrified neighborhoods be? A select few, like Society Hill, can become enduring enclaves for the wealthy, but why do they do so in the first place? And what will happen in places like Manayunk, where gentrification has clearly run its course but other factors like its distance* from Chestnut Hill prevent it from progressing further? Will the neighborhoods become stable middle-class neighborhoods? Or is there a sort of anti-gentrification, a revolt against over-trendiness? Manayunk's placement and age makes it a perfect test bed to find out what lies in store for the future of gentrification.

    *Manayunk is both proximate to and distant from Chestnut Hill because of the bordering effect of the Wissahickon Gorge; that is, it's just proximate enough to Chestnut Hill to gentrify in the first place, but too distant from Chestnut Hill to take the next step, becoming an upper-class enclave.
    Is this an accurate assessment of gentrification here? Or am I way off-base? What do you guys think?
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    eldondre is offline Moderator
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    gentrification is at its worst when property taxes are the main method of taxation. low property tax levels lets people stay in their houses. I was talking to a guy last night who grew up in Francisville and wants to stay now that the area is finally getting nicer. RE manayunk, it was a former mill town with no mills. The long time roxboroughians I knew said it was a rough and tumble strip of bars and ne'er-do-wells in their day. Main St seems to have killed "the ridge." It's an odd location. It's pretty but prone to flooding and somewhat inaccessible with poor parking. It woudl likely benefit from increased train service. Two things need to happen to reduce the number of college kids and one is already happening. First, the area around Temple needs to improve such that temple kids want to live there. that's already happening. Second, St. Joe's and City Line need to improve. that area sucks and I don't blame those kids for not wanting to live there.

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    thunda is offline Local celebrity
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    1. Was Society Hill really "one of the worst slums" in the city, or just a faded shabby neighborhood in a prominent location? Are 1950s slums comparable to contemporary urban blight?

    2. Manayunk actually has a lot beyond bars. There are several nice restaurants and quite a selection of furniture and homewares stores.

    3. Do people who can afford to buy in Society Hill really partake in the shopping on South Street, beyond some of the nicer restaurants?

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    eldondre is offline Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by thunda View Post
    1. Was Society Hill really "one of the worst slums" in the city, or just a faded shabby neighborhood in a prominent location? Are 1950s slums comparable to contemporary urban blight?
    AFAIK, yes, yes, and good question. It's my understanding that this was,historically speaking, a free black neighborhood (dating back before the civil war). the renewal efforts were also derisively referred to as "negro removal." It's my understanding that many people were "removed" and placed in public housing. although many of the properties were in bad shape, some looked pretty cool. there were some nice buildings on chestnut across from independence hall. there was a neat looking market at dock street. it's also worth noting that SH and Old City are two opposites in terms of redevelopment.

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    jre
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    Quote Originally Posted by eldondre View Post
    there were some nice buildings on chestnut across from independence hall.



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    Quote Originally Posted by Evelyn View Post
    Were Queen Village and Bella Vista bad hoods? And where were the good ones??

    AFAIK Bella Vista never was.
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    Some thoughts and questions on your extended meditation, hammersklavier:

    Society Hill was blighted, but I wouldn't have characterized it as a "slum" in the way much of North Central Philadelphia is one now. It was, however, the heart of Philadelphia's historic (IOW, pre-Great Migrations) black community, and as the term eldondre mentioned indicates, there was a strong suspicion among many of those blacks that what Edmund Bacon's boys had in mind was mainly getting rid of them. The same thing happened in "the Bottom" -- the residential neighborhood that lay north of Market from roughly 34th to 38th streets; the only difference is that instead of rich people, an office park replaced the original residents. The removal in West Philadephia earned the University of Pennsylvania the abiding distrust of many local residents.

    I think I understand the different types of gentrification you posit, but I'm not clear at all on the different types of gentrifiers. Is one type the person who wishes to recreate suburban peace and quiet, but at urban densities? Is another the Bobo, looking for bohemian funkiness and a designer tag at the same time? What kind of gentrifier settles in a hardscrabble ethnic community? (In some cities I have heard of, that kind of gentrifier is sometimes gay or [more often] lesbian; I think that Germantown is benefiting from this category of gentrifier.) Maybe you might want to elaborate on the typology of personalities more.

    In terms of who keeps Manayunk's business strip going, I suspect that it's less the Chestnut Hill folk -- who have their own thriving shopping district right smack in the middle of the neighborhood -- as it is the people in Gladwyne and nearby inner Main Line communities. Manayunk is more convenient to them than to the Chestnut Hill set -- it's a straight shot up Green Lane to the bridge across the Schuylkill. I also think the St. Joe's crowd also plays a role, as the entertainment options immediately adjacent to its campus are scant to nonexistent. I remember visiting Main Street in the early years of the bike race and noting that most of the storefronts there were vacant -- that strip's transformation has been nothing short of incredible.
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    billy ross is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammersklavier View Post
    I finally found a beautiful long post I've been looking for for a little while on Skyscraper Page, wherein I talked about gentrification in Philadelphia. So here goes:

    Is this an accurate assessment of gentrification here? Or am I way off-base? What do you guys think?
    Manayunk gertrified through the last real estate boom. I went away to college in 1987 and Manayunk was nothing. I came home in 1991 and Manayunk was hopping. I estimate that it started in 1989 and really built up in the early 90's, but median values didn't really shoot up until the mid to late 90's (maybe because so many run-down properties were trading hands, bringing down the median price?).

    Fairmount was no more a slum than Manayunk ever was, but in both places the local working-class ethnic whites have been almost entirely displaced; I feel that Fairmount retains very little of its previous local flavor; in fact, Fairmount is to me an example of placeless gentrification, a place full of people who could just as easily be in Boston.

    I would never have called Fishtown a slum.

    I am not as pessimistic about the future of Manayunk as you are. The fanciest real estate in Philly lie to the east of Roxborough / Manayunk and to the west of Roxborough / Manayunk; it's pretty much surrounded by wealth, and the areas around are if anything becoming more wealthy. R-M has an enviable location, and stunning topography. Ridge Avenue is called 'the Ridge', and not 'the Avenue', as in other Philly neighborhoods. Why? Because it is the ridgeline between two gorgeous and wealthy valleys, the Schuylkill Valley and Gladwyne on one side and the Wissahickon Valley and Chestnut Hill on the other. The land falls away on both sides of the Ridge, and Upper Roxborough especially is rural, open, and gorgeous. I predict teardown activity with much higher end stuff going in - it's already happening on River Road. Andorra (the developed part of Upper Roxborough) represents an interesting case study, as the quality of what has been built there has monotonically improved from its incipience, to the point where the early stuff is ludicrously humble. I foresee teardown activity there shortly, as the remaining undeveloped land is mostly restricted from development. Manayunk has always been a distinct part of Roxborough, only spending 14 out of the past 319 years as part of a different political district; even today Roxborough - Manayunk together make up the 21st Ward. As Roxborough becomes a wealthy place, Manayunk will ride its coattails, a reversal of the past 20 years.
    Last edited by billy ross; 04-07-2009 at 11:04 AM.

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    hammersklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarketStEl View Post
    Some thoughts and questions on your extended meditation, hammersklavier:

    Society Hill was blighted, but I wouldn't have characterized it as a "slum" in the way much of North Central Philadelphia is one now. It was, however, the heart of Philadelphia's historic (IOW, pre-Great Migrations) black community, and as the term eldondre mentioned indicates, there was a strong suspicion among many of those blacks that what Edmund Bacon's boys had in mind was mainly getting rid of them. The same thing happened in "the Bottom" -- the residential neighborhood that lay north of Market from roughly 34th to 38th streets; the only difference is that instead of rich people, an office park replaced the original residents. The removal in West Philadephia earned the University of Pennsylvania the abiding distrust of many local residents.
    Thanks. The only pictures of Society Hill pre-Bacon make it seem like it was a worse slum than North Philly at the time.
    I think I understand the different types of gentrification you posit, but I'm not clear at all on the different types of gentrifiers. Is one type the person who wishes to recreate suburban peace and quiet, but at urban densities? Is another the Bobo, looking for bohemian funkiness and a designer tag at the same time? What kind of gentrifier settles in a hardscrabble ethnic community? (In some cities I have heard of, that kind of gentrifier is sometimes gay or [more often] lesbian; I think that Germantown is benefiting from this category of gentrifier.) Maybe you might want to elaborate on the typology of personalities more.
    Effectively, 2 types: unslummers and ex post facto. Unslummers are people who instead of leaving a run-down neighborhood take the time to fix their properties up. Jacobs' description of North Enders in Death and Life is a good example of these. The idea is that when this is done in force in a neighborhood, it draws in other investors and residents who wouldn't have been their before. The ex post facto dudes, however, take the housing, once it has run down to super-cheap levels, fix it up, and then market it to whosoever wants a property of the type. So effectively the two types of gentrifiers are those who unslum their neighborhood for the love of it and those who do so to make money.
    In terms of who keeps Manayunk's business strip going, I suspect that it's less the Chestnut Hill folk -- who have their own thriving shopping district right smack in the middle of the neighborhood -- as it is the people in Gladwyne and nearby inner Main Line communities. Manayunk is more convenient to them than to the Chestnut Hill set -- it's a straight shot up Green Lane to the bridge across the Schuylkill. I also think the St. Joe's crowd also plays a role, as the entertainment options immediately adjacent to its campus are scant to nonexistent. I remember visiting Main Street in the early years of the bike race and noting that most of the storefronts there were vacant -- that strip's transformation has been nothing short of incredible.
    This is true, but what I was getting at was proximity of expansion, namely, that neighborhoods tend to gentrify as buds coming off a previously high-class/gentrified neighborhood. Due to this, I think that Ludlow is probably going to gentrify soon, as it has all the main effects of proximity of expansion, as well as the large amounts of vacant land and super-cheap housing market-force gentrifiers look for. On the other hand, Germantown is gentrifying quickly as well, and it would seem that Germantowners are gentrifying out of the sheer love of their neighborhood.

    Another thing to note is that gentrification is a double-edged sword: since it is predominately driven by the market at scale, it also tends to autohomogenize (sort itself into a group made of the same types of people from the same income level). This isn't necessarily a good thing, since most of the best and most vibrant neighborhoods anywhere include an admixture of all sorts of dwellings and dwellers from all locales, time periods, and ethnicities. It is thus important to figure out how to maintain a significant presence of low-to-moderate income residents in what is otherwise a high-income neighborhood in such a way so that, once introduced, it becomes self-sustaining.
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    raider.adam is offline Senior Member
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    Another thing to note is that gentrification is a double-edged sword: since it is predominately driven by the market at scale, it also tends to autohomogenize (sort itself into a group made of the same types of people from the same income level). This isn't necessarily a good thing, since most of the best and most vibrant neighborhoods anywhere include an admixture of all sorts of dwellings and dwellers from all locales, time periods, and ethnicities.
    This isn't gentrification. This is just human nature. In the beginning history of the Philadelphia you had ethnicities living around others of similar culture. Like finding like is nothing new.

    The idea of performing social engineering to force people to live in certain areas typically fails. The reason it fails is because those with means to leave, will leave if they no longer want to live there or it is no longer beneficial for them to live there.

    This is part of the problem with the gentrification discussion. Gentrification is not evil or a bad thing, but too many negative events that have ultimately nothing to do with gentrification get attached to it.

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    billy ross is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by eldondre View Post
    gentrification is at its worst when property taxes are the main method of taxation. low property tax levels lets people stay in their houses. I was talking to a guy last night who grew up in Francisville and wants to stay now that the area is finally getting nicer. RE manayunk, it was a former mill town with no mills. The long time roxboroughians I knew said it was a rough and tumble strip of bars and ne'er-do-wells in their day. Main St seems to have killed "the ridge." It's an odd location. It's pretty but prone to flooding and somewhat inaccessible with poor parking. It woudl likely benefit from increased train service. Two things need to happen to reduce the number of college kids and one is already happening. First, the area around Temple needs to improve such that temple kids want to live there. that's already happening. Second, St. Joe's and City Line need to improve. that area sucks and I don't blame those kids for not wanting to live there.
    You haven't been to the Ridge in a while; it's doing quite well, in my opinion, relative to when you used to live locally.

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    billy ross is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarketStEl View Post
    Some thoughts and questions on your extended meditation, hammersklavier:

    Society Hill was blighted, but I wouldn't have characterized it as a "slum" in the way much of North Central Philadelphia is one now. It was, however, the heart of Philadelphia's historic (IOW, pre-Great Migrations) black community, and as the term eldondre mentioned indicates, there was a strong suspicion among many of those blacks that what Edmund Bacon's boys had in mind was mainly getting rid of them. The same thing happened in "the Bottom" -- the residential neighborhood that lay north of Market from roughly 34th to 38th streets; the only difference is that instead of rich people, an office park replaced the original residents. The removal in West Philadephia earned the University of Pennsylvania the abiding distrust of many local residents.

    I think I understand the different types of gentrification you posit, but I'm not clear at all on the different types of gentrifiers. Is one type the person who wishes to recreate suburban peace and quiet, but at urban densities? Is another the Bobo, looking for bohemian funkiness and a designer tag at the same time? What kind of gentrifier settles in a hardscrabble ethnic community? (In some cities I have heard of, that kind of gentrifier is sometimes gay or [more often] lesbian; I think that Germantown is benefiting from this category of gentrifier.) Maybe you might want to elaborate on the typology of personalities more.

    In terms of who keeps Manayunk's business strip going, I suspect that it's less the Chestnut Hill folk -- who have their own thriving shopping district right smack in the middle of the neighborhood -- as it is the people in Gladwyne and nearby inner Main Line communities. Manayunk is more convenient to them than to the Chestnut Hill set -- it's a straight shot up Green Lane to the bridge across the Schuylkill. I also think the St. Joe's crowd also plays a role, as the entertainment options immediately adjacent to its campus are scant to nonexistent. I remember visiting Main Street in the early years of the bike race and noting that most of the storefronts there were vacant -- that strip's transformation has been nothing short of incredible.
    Only 25% of Society Hill's present built stock predates the gentrification. When North Central Philadelphia stabilizes as an aspirational neighborhood, more than 25% of it will have predated the re-building.

    I fully agree with your perceptions of Manayunk.
    Last edited by billy ross; 04-07-2009 at 07:35 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by billy ross View Post
    You haven't been to the Ridge in a while; it's doing quite well, in my opinion, relative to when you used to live locally.
    I usually try to avoid Ridge Ave. (traffic) when driving to/from/around Rox/Manayunk. I drove down Ridge Ave. on Saturday morning and was surprised at all the new store fronts down below Green Lane. Nothing says gentrification like a new Starbucks opening up.

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    eldondre is offline Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by billy ross View Post
    You haven't been to the Ridge in a while; it's doing quite well, in my opinion, relative to when you used to live locally.
    whether it's doing better now or not is really besides the point. the ridge went into decline and main st was resurrected. too bad they tore down the old theater for a DnD. they had pictures of the theater in the old roxy. Ridge only needs some decent businesses, it's not exactly in a blighted neighborhood. I was always disappointed by that bar, the name escapes me now, but it could have been so much better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stonefly View Post
    I usually try to avoid Ridge Ave. (traffic) when driving to/from/around Rox/Manayunk. I drove down Ridge Ave. on Saturday morning and was surprised at all the new store fronts down below Green Lane. Nothing says gentrification like a new Starbucks opening up.
    Rox was never run down or poor enough for 'gentrification' to apply IMO. Its always been a stable, nice place to live. Sure, there are some ghetto pockets, but they are tiny compared to the whole.

    Ridge is def looking better...its nice too see that hard work (RDC) pays off!

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    eldondre is offline Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by raider.adam View Post
    This isn't gentrification. This is just human nature. In the beginning history of the Philadelphia you had ethnicities living around others of similar culture. Like finding like is nothing new.

    The idea of performing social engineering to force people to live in certain areas typically fails. The reason it fails is because those with means to leave, will leave if they no longer want to live there or it is no longer beneficial for them to live there.

    This is part of the problem with the gentrification discussion. Gentrification is not evil or a bad thing, but too many negative events that have ultimately nothing to do with gentrification get attached to it.
    well, you have to admit that property taxes on market valuations can be an active force in this situation. Like I said, just because a neighborhood gets nice doesn't mean everyone will want to leave but if people's property taxes go from $700 year to $3300 a year, some may be forced to leave. Ideally, people will choose to stay or leave on their own. Also of note is that according to billy ross, Fairmount is a placeless neighborhood but roxborough's increasing wealth is somehow good. to me this seems contradictory. Roxborough, like fairmount, was a more or less working and middle class neighborhood. If it goes wealthy, like fairmount did, it will have the same result. I certainly would miss some of the old roxborough, which was less of little puppies in handbags and lots of people keeping their neighborhood stable. It's also not entirely true since low property taxes have meant some people can stay, those that owned their house.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eldondre View Post
    well, you have to admit that property taxes on market valuations can be an active force in this situation. Like I said, just because a neighborhood gets nice doesn't mean everyone will want to leave but if people's property taxes go from $700 year to $3300 a year, some may be forced to leave.
    I have repeatedly commented on this. It is a problem with a very easy solution. All City Council has to do is cap how much a tax bill can go up every year. Other than property taxes, there is nothing else that prices homeowners out of a gentrifying neighborhood.

    The worst of gentrification can be fixed with a several line piece of legislation. A piece of legislation that would have overwhelmingly popular support.

    The problem is not gentrification, it is City Hall.

    Imagine an environment where current residents don't have to fear new people moving in or people developing vacant homes and empty lots. Imagine a place where people can take a chance and move into a tough neighborhood knowing if things workout, they will be rewarded by having relatively modest tax bills for as long as they stay in the home. Imagine City growth that doesn't involve new verse old fighting with each other and requiring councilmembers to step in and have their hands deep in everything.

    Why would City Hall want that?
    Last edited by raider.adam; 04-07-2009 at 12:20 PM.

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    eldondre is offline Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by raider.adam View Post
    The problem is not gentrification, it is City Hall.
    you're right , though a society that views property taxes as a desirable means of taxation and, most likely, deep down as a way to force people out of their homes is also at fault. democracy and respecting others rights sometimes means you have to coexist with people you may or may not like.
    you may be right on city halls motivations but it's also possible they'll never do anything they're not forced to. they are afraid of what will happen, it seems, even though polling data shows support for fixing the system. FUD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eldondre View Post
    you're right , though a society that views property taxes as a desirable means of taxation and, most likely, deep down as a way to force people out of their homes is also at fault. democracy and respecting others rights sometimes means you have to coexist with people you may or may not like.
    you may be right on city halls motivations but it's also possible they'll never do anything they're not forced to. they are afraid of what will happen, it seems, even though polling data shows support for fixing the system. FUD.
    Well, I don't have any personal issue with using property as a way to collect taxes. Ultimately we tax based off of wealth and property is an asset. Now I don't think property tax is designed to push people out of their homes. It is just an easy way to get and predict revenue and hard to cheat at (compared to other taxes). An oppressive wage/income tax can be just as destructive to someone losing their home (removes income that is needed to pay the mortgage).

    Also, the thing about property tax, you can easily avoid liability without affecting your earnings. As an example, I have a low property tax liability simply because I chose to live in a neighborhood with low property taxes (and will be low for the forseeable future). A wage/income tax system, the only way I avoid increased tax liability is by making less money a year.

    Inherently, I am not against a tax system that rewards people for being frugal and living within their means while at the same time not discouraging them from achieving higher goals.

    There are pros and cons to all tax systems and all could be taken advantage of if implemented with malicious intent.

 

 

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