City Council President Darrell L. Clarke announced new details Wednesday of his $400 million plan for Philadelphia to borrow money to increase funding for a variety of existing programs aimed at improving housing stability and reviving commercial corridors.
Clarke said he will introduce legislation Friday outlining what his signature Neighborhood Preservation Initiative will fund, including $118 million for new affordable housing, $64.6 million to preserve existing affordable housing, and $56 million for Philly First Home, which helps low- to moderate-income residents buy their first homes.
“We’re not talking about building a new stadium. We’re not talking about the Navy Yard. We’re not talking about the waterfront,” Clarke said at a news conference outside Gilben’s Bakery & Specialty Sandwich Shop on Stenton Avenue in Mount Airy, which has benefited from city programs. “We’re talking about spending $400 million in neighborhoods across the city of Philadelphia.”
Clarke’s neighborhood-centric focus echoes that of his mentor John F. Street, the former Council president and mayor whose signature policy was the $300 million Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. That program used borrowing to boost affordable housing and finance demolitions of vacant properties in the name of blight reduction. Clarke served as Street’s chief of staff in Council and replaced him in the North Philadelphia-based 5th District when Street became mayor.
Clarke and other Council members presented a ceremonial enlarged check for $400 million made out to “Philadelphia Neighborhoods” at the event Wednesday outside Gilben’s. The shop is on a commercial corridor that the city has worked to clean up, and it received city aid for a new brick facade that co-owner Crystal Brown said made it possible for her to employ 10 people.
“It was kind of horrible before, and now it’s really beautiful,” Brown said. “I hope that the whole city can actually look like this.”
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Clarke last year shepherded the passage of a new 1% tax on residential construction and a 10% reduction in the value of the city’s property tax abatement for commercial development. Those revenue-raising measures, he said, were intended to pay for the cost of the new borrowing.
Those tax changes, however, are permanent, meaning they will outlive the initiative and are not dedicated revenue streams for it. Instead they will boost the general fund as the city spends more money on the programs included in the initiative and pays off the bonds. (The property tax abatement change will also increase revenue for the School District.)
Other services set to get boosts through Clarke’s NPI include $38 million for the basic systems repair program, which subsidizes home repairs for people in danger of losing their homes, and $7.6 million to prevent and resolve tangled real estate titles, through which people sometimes lose legal ownership of their family homes.
Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker said Wednesday that tangled titles are an “issue that has been draining generational wealth out of Black and brown communities in particular that have not traditionally focused on estate planning.”
“We are doing today what government should do,” Parker said at the news conference, “and that is returning $400 million, in essence, to the neighborhoods and people who have worked to keep Philadelphia alive.”