U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.) has written the Treasury Department that he is “deeply troubled” that a hotel in a relatively affluent part of his district in Philadelphia has received a subsidy meant for projects in disadvantaged communities.
The conversion of the Liberty Title building at Broad and Arch Streets just north of City Hall into a 179-room hotel received $15 million in New Market Tax Credit support although it “is neither located in a low-income community, nor will its benefits accrue to the residents of the surrounding neighborhood,” Brady wrote.
The congressman’s letter, dated June 12, follows efforts by an advocacy group, Center City Organized for Responsible Development, to draw attention to what it characterizes as the misallocation of public support to projects in already-developed neighborhoods at the expense of poorer communities.
At a forum earlier this month, CCORD urged elected officials to make sure New Market Tax Credit awards benefit the low-income areas the program was designed to help, according to a report by the online news site PlanPhilly.
Brady’s letter was provided to the Inquirer by CCORD. Those forming the group include the leaders of Arch Street Methodist Church, just south of the hotel development site across Arch Street, and members of the Unite Here labor union, whose membership includes hospitality workers.
“Mr. Brady got involved after being contacted by the community coalition, which raised serious concerns about how [the tax credits] were being used at this project,” Brady’s chief of staff, Stanley V. White, said in an email Monday.
The renovation of the 1920s building into a hotel under Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Aloft brand is being completed by Realen Properties of Berwyn and New Orleans-based HRI Properties LLC, with financing from Almanac Realty Investors of New York.
Realen president Dennis Maloomian declined to comment on Brady’s letter.
The actual benefit to developers of New Market Tax Credits is generally 25 percent to 30 percent of the value of the award after their sale to investors and payment of fees, said John Grady, president of Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which has allocated credits for projects.
The development team also received a $2 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the state and a $10 million award of federal historic tax credits, and is expected to receive about $6 million in city tax abatements for new construction, according to the letter.
The New Market Tax Credit program “receives regular appropriations from Congress to subsidize the development of projects that will benefit residents of the low-income community in which the project is built,” Brady wrote to the Treasury Department. “In my opinion, the area around Broad and Arch Streets should not qualify as a ‘low-income community.’ ”
Brady’s district includes much of eastern Philadelphia and parts of Delaware County.
The U.S. Census tract in which the hotel project is located – largely bounded by Broad and Seventh Streets, between Vine and Arch – had a median household income of $59,891, about 1.5 times the citywide median of $38,253, according to census estimates from 2015.
About 25 percent of the census tract’s population is below the poverty line, roughly the same as the citywide rate, according to the 2015 estimates.
It is not uncommon for credits to be allocated to projects with strong job-creating potential in areas of moderate income, said Grady, whose agency has invested credits for work at the University City Science Center and the West Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, among other projects throughout the city.
In his letter, Brady asked the Treasury Department for a list of qualified potential investment targets for New Market Tax Credit financing that received no such funds between 2015 and 2017. He also asked to review any “community benefit agreements or other statements which articulate the community benefits promised by this project.”
“To my knowledge, there are no agreements in place at this hotel to ensure a hiring pipeline from low-income neighborhoods, or to ensure that good jobs are created to lift people out of poverty,” Brady wrote.
White, Brady’s chief of staff, said the office has not yet received any response from the Treasury Department.
The department did not immediately respond to an email from the Inquirer.