Using Crowdfunding To Fuel Urban Renewal

It’s estimated that there are as many as 40,000 abandoned properties and vacant lots in Philadelphia, 75% of which are owned by private landlords who are unwilling or unable to make them safe and livable spaces. The neglected properties often attract crime, creating major challenges for a city whose homicide rate for 2011 was number one out of the top 10 largest cities in the U.S.

Faced with a major uphill battle, one local resident—Jamie Moffett, head of the Kensington Renewal Project—is hoping to spawn a new wave of urban renewal.

The idea is simple: Use crowdfunding to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of purchasing a vacant property in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, or what they refer to as “abandominiums.” Enlist the help of local volunteers and use donated building materials to keep renovation costs at a minimum. When they’re done, their goal is to sell the home back to a member of the community at or below the current market rate, which currently stands at around $37,000. 

As part of the initiative, they also want to add security lighting, pop up art spaces, and community gardens to help take what would have otherwise been seen as a negative space and turn it into something positive. 

“There’s a clear correlation between homeownership and crime rates. We want to help to eliminate the urban blight and incidents of violent crime that have plagued Kensington by helping homeowners who aren’t able to do the rehabs on their own,” said Moffett.

Moffett hopes to leverage his skills as a documentary filmmaker (his day job) to develop a narrative around the project—a story that will retell the history of the neighborhood, highlight sources of inspiration, and help document their progress.

If successful, crowdfunding could open a bevy of new doors for urban renewal projects in economically depressed areas around the country by making it possible to raise capital without having to rely on big banks and local policy makers. Platforms such as HelpersUnite also make it possible for folks who might otherwise be too afraid to visit a blighted neighborhood to make a contribution.

Find author Shawn Graham at shawngraham.me or continue the conversation on Twitter.

[Image: Kensington Renewal Project]

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