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Funding for affordable housing needs budget mandate | Opinion

A yes vote on the November referendum would ensure more families don’t lose their homes.

Councilmember Green at a 2020 rally in Dilworth Plaza at City Hall in support of the Housing Trust Fund.
Councilmember Green at a 2020 rally in Dilworth Plaza at City Hall in support of the Housing Trust Fund.Read moreWCRP/PCAC

Our region is inching toward a post-COVID-19 normal. But even when normalcy returns, that sigh of relief is not coming for far too many Philadelphians, many of whom have lost their jobs, may lose their homes, and — most importantly — have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus.

The same residents, including many seniors and people with disabilities who have endured threats to their health and well-being, as well as significant financial losses, will soon face more risks.

» READ MORE: Philly’s violence crisis can be reduced by tackling our housing repair crisis | Editorial

This year’s budget includes an insufficient amount from the city’s general fund for the creation and preservation of affordable homes through the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) — which is responsible for financing programs that aid at-risk renters, providing grants to make home repairs or accessibility improvements for residents with disabilities, and supporting the creation and preservation of affordable homes.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia, a city with one of the highest poverty rates and the largest population of people with disabilities, has failed to prioritize affordable housing, while cities all over the country have taken steps to prioritize general fund spending on affordable housing. Washington, D.C., has made a commitment to provide a minimum of $100 million to its housing trust fund. Although Philadelphia does have a dedicated source of housing trust fund dollars — real estate transfer recording fees — this source amounts to roughly $14 million per year. Not nearly enough to meet the growing need for quality, affordable housing in our city.

In every Council district in the city, more households are spending more on housing than they can afford. Philadelphia needs a mandatory commitment from the city’s general fund for the Housing Trust Fund to prevent displacement in gentrifying communities where the affordability gap is growing. In these areas, housing prices are skyrocketing, incomes have fallen, and affordable, accessible homes are becoming out of reach for far too many Philadelphians.

The question on the Nov. 2 ballot places this funding opportunity in the hands of voters and would amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to implement a mandatory, annual appropriation of at least 0.5% of the general fund to the HTF. A yes vote would ensure the urgent affordable housing needs in our communities are met. This would translate to $26 million next fiscal year for the HTF, based on this year’s $5.2 billion budget.

“When renters are unable to pay what they owe, it leads to evictions and increases homelessness — especially for renters of color.”

Derek Green, Nora Lichtash, and Thomas Earle

This referendum comes at a critical moment for Philadelphia because, as a city, we are losing ground — and that comes at a high cost. Half of all renters, and nearly one out of every three homeowners, are cost-burdened — meaning they do not have enough money left to cover other basic needs after paying their housing costs.

A poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that about a quarter of families had fallen behind in rent and mortgage payments. When renters are unable to pay what they owe, it leads to evictions and increases homelessness — especially for renters of color. Seventy-five percent of Latino residents and 55% of Black residents reported struggling to pay their bills, and in North, West, and South Philadelphia, rising housing costs have displaced 32% of Black community residents.

These numbers are devastating, but it’s not too late to make a difference. Supporting the Housing Trust Fund referendum — ballot question number 4 — will bring tens of thousands of our neighbors one step closer to securing safe, accessible, and affordable housing. We strongly encourage Philadelphia voters to vote yes, and make a strong statement that funding affordable housing should be a priority.

Derek Green is an at-large member of City Council, Nora Lichtash is the executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, and Thomas Earle is the CEO of Liberty Resources, which advocates for people with disabilities.