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Testimony on Mixed Income Housing Program - Bill No. 170678

Housing

Testimony on Mixed Income Housing Program - Bill No. 170678

Date Posted: 
11/27/2017

The following testimony was delivered to Philadelphia City Council by CLS Managing Attorney Rasheedah Phillips on November 27, 2017.

Good afternoon, my name is Rasheedah Phillips, and I am the Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit at Community Legal Services. We are grateful to have worked with City Council for several decades to protect tenants and promote safe, affordable housing.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Mixed Income Housing program legislation introduced by Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez, Council President Clarke, and Councilmembers Blackwell and Johnson.

Since the introduction of this legislation, CLS has worked closely with building professionals, key city administrative staff, civic leaders, and housing advocates to develop policies and procedures for qualifying renters and homeowners, pricing and marketing of units, monitoring and enforcement, and other key components of the program.  George Gould has co-chaired the Affordability Subcommittee, while I have had the opportunity to co-chair the Accessibility and Compliance subcommittee.  Many voices and perspectives have come together with deep wells of expertise to craft a program that is practical, simple to administer, sustainable, and one that seeks to balance the needs of developers and housing providers, and the individuals and families who will access affordable, quality housing under this program.  

CLS has reviewed recent amendments to the bill with an eye towards this balance and the program’s goals and intentions.  Although we urge the passage of this bill in its current form, we strongly recommend future amendments that will grow the program and address the following:

  • Income Restrictions should be lowered to 30% of AMI for low income eligible tenants, and 60% for low income eligible purchasers.  Although the restrictions are less than or equal to the limits identified in the amendments, we are concerned that, given the opportunity, housing providers will choose applicants that are at maximum eligibility. Lowering the income restrictions will encourage housing providers to consider applicants with lower incomes who fall within deeper levels of affordability, allowing the program to serve and benefit the families and people who need it most.
  • Mixed Income Housing program should apply to substantial rehabs and pre-existing structures. Substantial rehab and rehab of pre-existing structures may happen more often in some neighborhoods than new construction, where developers are converting old warehouses and industrial buildings into luxury and market rate housing, such as the Penn Wynn House and Eastern Lofts.
  • In order to truly ensure long-term affordability and to ensure developer compliance with agreed upon affordable housing standards, increase the affordability period from 50 years to 99 years.
  • Inclusion of more zoning districts to ensure generation of affordable units in locations that adequately addresses the need, or to ensure payments-in-lieu generate enough funding to create affordable units or fund home repairs at the scale needed.

In the poorest major City in America, where a lack of affordable housing has consistently been identified as one of the leading causes of homelessness among families with children, we are long overdue for a mandatory inclusionary housing policy.  In my own North Philly neighborhood, known as Brewerytown, our community members have consistently been vocal at monthly civic association and zoning community meetings about the want and need for affordable housing in our area, so that long term community members and young families can have an opportunity to continue to live in and give back to North Philly. I first moved to North Philly 15 years ago when I started out as an undergraduate at Temple University. I have intentionally chosen to come back to and stay in North Philly as both a renter and a homeowner. I bought my home 7 years ago next month. As a young, single mother, first time homebuyer, it was a struggle but it would have been next to impossible to buy that same house in 2017, where the cost to buy a house has increased by 200% over the past decade, or to be a working, parenting college student renting in that same area with the way property taxes, development, gentrification, home prices, rental prices have since risen and proliferated. Skyrocketing housing costs and shrinking incomes have meant that, all too often, displacement is a reality in gentrifying neighborhoods. Mixed income housing gives people who have stake in the growth of places like North Philly meaningful opportunities to intentionally contribute to that growth and give back to the communities they were raised in.

CLS strongly supports all of the goals of this legislation, which seeks to keep up with growing housing demands in the city by leveraging all available resources.  It seeks to ensure that long-term residents, who are dedicated to their neighborhoods and their community, are able to stay in their communities even as rapid development occurs, and young families are able to remain in communities they have grown up in and want to stay in or return to. It seeks to expand housing opportunities for all residents, and preserve economic and racial diversity in areas impacted by gentrification and redevelopment, which creates integrated communities with improved quality of life for all. These are all goals that will deliver our city to a more equitable, inclusive future.

Like the hundreds of other cities and towns around the country where similar policies have been successful, we believe that a Mixed Income Housing program in Philadelphia is workable, if we all work together to be a part of the solution. We strongly urge the passing of this legislation in its current form, with amendments as suggested, because affordable housing and equitable communities can no longer wait. We look forward to continuing to work with city council, housing advocates, developers, and community members to continue to support and develop these policies.