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Pennsylvania Latinos welcome economic development, weary of gentrification

As the economy is a central focus in the midterm elections, some Latinos want prosperity to reach beyond downtown developers.

  • Anthony Orozco
PA Latino Convention Chairman Norman Bristol Colon addresses attendees, covering topics such as equity in the workforce, voting and the economic power of Latinos.

 Anthony Orozco / WITF

PA Latino Convention Chairman Norman Bristol Colon addresses attendees, covering topics such as equity in the workforce, voting and the economic power of Latinos.

Editor’s note: This story is part of WITF’s pledge to put you, the voter, first in our election coverage — by engaging with you about issues important to your community and shining a light on them.

At the PA Latino Convention in Allentown, conversations about the financial strength of Latinos were not only center-stage, but also echoing in the hallways.

Angel Rosario walked the halls of the Renaissance Hotel, where he and throngs of other professionals and experts convened to dissect the most important issues affecting his community.

“Obviously, with the economy and inflation, you know, borrowing money is getting increasingly expensive,” Rosario said.

But more specifically, he is worried about barriers facing aspiring entrepreneurs.

“There’s kind of like a dual threat, they have the cost of borrowing, which is incredibly high right now and also the cost to rent, or lease space or buy space,” Rosario said. “In some of our new upcoming communities, you know, it might cost $25 to $30 per square foot just to run a small storefront in a busy area.”

witf · Latinos want prosperity for their neighbors, not just their cities’ downtowns

Interest rates for loans across the board have doubled since the start of the year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Rates have gone from three percent to more than six percent. And some interest rates can hit as high as 11 percent, according to the SBA.

As a small business lender for the nonprofit organization, Pursuit, Rosario is familiar with the current financial landscape

With the midterm elections looming, he said he hasn’t really seen any candidate offer up a plan.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the elections, or who’s going to be able to kind of influence that change,” Rosario said. “But that’s something I’m really keeping my eye on is how can I mitigate that risk for people? How can I help them navigate that.”

Anthony Orozco / WITF

Angel Rosario waits for an elevator during the PA Latino Convention in Allentown.

Intimately connected to higher costs faced by business owners, is the soaring cost of housing. Real estate values across the commonwealth and the country have shot up over the past year.

Construction has slowed due to rising costs of materials and there’s a limited inventory of homes for sale. Some cities, such as Harrisburg, have turned into highly competitive housing markets.

Gentrification – the process of wealthier people improving poor urban areas and making it less accessible or displacing people with lower incomes – is a big concern for Rosario.

He’s not the only one. It’s a topic in cities where Latinos make up large portions, or even the majority, of the population.

Places like Reading and Lancaster.

Allentown is in that group as well. It’s bustling with new apartment complexes and office buildings, sprung up from more than one billion dollars of private investments in the downtown.

Luis Bardales Junior has lived in the city since immigrating from Peru as a toddler and now owns and operates LBJ Media, a digital marketing company.

He said he regularly sees the displacement of his community from the downtown.

“Minority owned businesses, and also landlords, are getting bought out to build these things,” Bardales said. “And, you know, a lot of the time it is for a good purpose, but they have to be more aware of the different types of communities that it affects.”

Activists, community groups and neighbors have aired grievances about the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone — a special taxing district to encourage development in the downtown.

Luis said economic development is beneficial for cities like his, but he feels more consideration is needed for how it affects the people and businesses already there.

Young voters like Aliya Rios agree. Rios hails from Philadelphia and studies English and creative writing at Penn State’s main campus in State College.

“I feel like as a community, as our city, we should be able to put more funding and more help to the local businesses there, since these are the people that we are serving,” Rios said. “There are people that they’ve lived generations in Philadelphia, and it’s not fair for them to be forced to move out of their business, out of their homes, to make room for people that will have their buildings knocked down and build something new and then pay higher rent.”

Anthony Orozco / WITF

PSU student and Philadelphia native Aliya Rios attends a panel discussion at the PA Latino Convention.

Two prominent examples are the proposed billion-dollar 76ers arena that would level a portion of Philadelphia’s Chinatown and the loss of affordable housing in West Philly.

Angel Rosario said he sees some successful development where he lives — Lancaster. But it comes at a cost.

The city has a low crime rate, a bustling arts scene and youthful energy of multiple colleges — making it one of the most attractive cities in the nation, according to publications like Forbes.

“It’s a great community, great business community, a lot of Latinos in that community, but there’s also a lot of gentrification, which is a concern,” Rosario said.

Rosario said he feels fortunate he’s not just starting out now.

“If I was a single guy, a single, professional, to get a two-bedroom apartment, I’d be paying $1,800 in a decent area, which I think is crazy.”

Latinos — like Angel Rosario — say they want to see material improvements to their communities, and that doesn’t just mean buildings, infrastructure or nicer dining options.

They want the people who already make up neighborhoods in these cities to prosper as well.

Anthony Orozco is a part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities. He produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative, using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional, and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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