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Testimony on Philadelphia's Draft Assessment of Fair Housing


Testimony on Philadelphia's Draft Assessment of Fair Housing

Date Posted: 

The following testimony was delivered by CLS Managing Attorney Rasheedah Phillips to the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and the Philadelphia Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) on November 17th, 2016.

Good afternoon, my name is Rasheedah Phillips, and I am the Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit at Community Legal Services, which provides free legal advice and representation to low-income tenants living in private and public housing in Philadelphia. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Assessment of Fair Housing today. I stand in support of the comments just delivered by Sarah Yeung, and would like to speak to additional areas of concern that we have identified with the draft AFH in our reading thus far. Given my limited time and my intention to submit written comments, I am going to speak specifically to areas of the AFH dealing with contributing factors and the publicly supported housing analysis. 

According to HUD, the AFH must identify significant contributing factors for the fair housing issues of segregation, racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAPS), disparities in access to opportunity, disproportionate housing needs, fair housing issues related to publicly supported housing, disability and access, and fair housing enforcement, outreach and resources.  In several sections dealing with contributing factors, the draft AFH fails to identify a host of factors impacting tenants.  In the section on displacement of residents due to economic pressures under contributing factors for segregation, for instance, the AFH fails to identify high rates of eviction in zip codes with rapidly appreciating neighborhoods. Under the community opposition section, voucher discrimination – also known as source of income discrimination - in high opportunity areas is not included. Similarly, the contributing factors of R/ECAPS section glaringly omit discrimination against women with children, domestic violence survivors, racial and ethnic minorities, and LEP communities as a contributing factor. 

Although the impact of evictions is referenced in the section on contributing factors of disproportionate housing needs, this section, as well as other sections mentioning evictions, is severely underdeveloped.  The consequences of eviction go far beyond temporary displacement and loss of shelter.  Judgments based on evictions lead to loss of housing benefits and compromise the ability to get into housing, private or subsidized, for the rest of one’s life, leading to dangerous cycles of poverty and instability.  Unlike a criminal record, there is virtually no possibility of getting an eviction filing off of your credit or tenancy record, even if you are able to get the judgment satisfied or vacated.  The eviction crisis is compounded by a lack of meaningful access to attorneys and the court system.  Of the approximately 20,000 eviction actions filed in Philadelphia Landlord-Tenant court each year, approximately 85% of landlords have legal counsel, while only 8% of tenants are represented. Reviews of Philadelphia Municipal Court data has shown that tenants with attorneys are far less likely to be evicted. The AFH should also more clearly acknowledge its limitations in obtaining data on illegal or non-court ordered evictions (which is itself symptomatic of widespread fair housing issues).  Some of this information could have been obtained through the community and stakeholder engagement processes; I previously submitted a letter to the City and PHA detailing our concerns with the community engagement process.

The picture of housing instability and domestic violence and sexual assault becomes more complicated when race, gender, economic status, and immigration status are factored in. Women standing at the intersections of poverty, race, disability, sexual preference, gender, and undocumented immigration status have fewer options for affordable housing, face more housing discrimination, and are evicted at much higher rates than men and white women. Studies and statistics show, for example, that low-income women of all races are evicted at much higher rates than men, while black and Hispanic women tend to be overrepresented in court-ordered evictions. As sociologist Matt Desmond has noted, “Poor black and Hispanic men tend to be “locked up,” while poor, black and Hispanic women tend to be “locked out.” This holds true for our city – for instance, out of approximately 2,000 clients a year in the Housing unit at CLS, 77% identified as women, while 65% identified as Black women. 50% of clients had one or more children under the age of 18 living with them.  Surprisingly, there is virtually no discussion in the AFH on gender and familial status discrimination as a contributing factor to segregation or disparities in housing access.  While the HUD assessment tool specifically lists “lack of housing support for victims of sexual harassment, including victims of domestic violence” as a factor to be considered, the draft AFH does not provide any analysis on disparities in housing needs based on status as a victim of domestic violence.

Another section of the draft AFH that is underdeveloped is the “Publicly Supported Housing Analysis” section. Specifically, the section describing disparities in opportunity for residents of publicly supported housing should include a deeper, more specific analysis by neighborhoods or RE/CAPS, and should include an analysis of additional disparity factors, such as persistent/generational poverty, domestic violence and sexual assault, gun violence, limited English proficiency, and disability.   

The additional information section under the publicly supported housing analysis contains inaccurate or outdated information. For instance, the AFH mentions the Blueprint to End Homelessness program, but does not mention that as of October 18, 2016, the program priorities changed dramatically.  The Office of Homeless Services is no longer completing nor accepting new PHA applications in Emergency Housing programs due to an inability to meet the waitlist demands.

The discussion on Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversions also has a number of issues. First, it only addresses RAD Component 1 in a graph entitled “Public Housing Developments Proposed for RAD Conversion.” The exclusion of RAD Component 2 data is troubling because these conversions, which are already occurring, happen with less PHA involvement and with some differences in program rules. In many instances, this means there are fewer opportunities to ensure long term affordability mechanisms. For example, Station House is converting and is losing nearly half of its affordable housing units. The exclusion of this data from the FHA creates an unrealistic perspective of RAD, assuming that it only applies to public housing units that have heavy PHA involvement and oversight. Moreover, the AFH’s failure to include information about RAD Component 2 is emblematic of the larger problem: HUD had has made little information available to the public about which properties are converting to RAD under Component 2. A second problem with this small section on RAD is that the numbers it presents vary from HUD data and even from data that PHA has previously released. Of course, the assessment includes the disclaimer that the RAD conversion process is ongoing and the numbers will change. However, for projects that have closed on their RAD conversion, those numbers should be consistent with HUD data released on November 15, 2016. We will include a chart of the inconsistencies in our written comments. As the property gets closer to closing, we would expect to see more clarity and consistency in the number of units converting. However, a comparison between publicly available information on RAD conversions does not show that.

Finally, similar to previous sections, several contributing factors are missing from the publicly supported housing analysis section, including environmental hazards and habitability complaints at public housing properties, public housing and private housing admissions and occupancy policies, waitlists exceeding the availability of units, voucher or source of income discrimination, lack of landlord knowledge or investment in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and evictions and program terminations based on economic factors or substandard housing conditions.

Thank you for your time, consideration, and the opportunity to testify. I look forward to submitting more extensive comments on December 12, 2016.  If you have any additional questions or require more information, please feel free to contact me.