Heading into mid-2008, Mayor Nutter and City Council decided to make a critical, five-year investment to help low-income Philadelphians keep a roof over their heads. But then the roof caved in on the city budget.
Out the window went a plan to increase by $3 million a year the city's contribution to its Housing Trust Fund, which has helped more than 4,000 families with housing needs since its inception four years ago.
The city's first-year investment was halved, then eliminated during the current budget year as the city's fiscal crisis worsened amid the state budget stalemate. Instead of growing by $6 million over two years, the fund received only $1.5 million from the city — while the housing needs of many Philadelphians became more dire, particularly those facing mortgage foreclosure.
So it's welcome news that Councilman Darrell L. Clarke and state Rep. John J. Taylor (R., Phila.) are trying to jump-start new local funding for the trust fund. A pair of proposals from Clarke will receive a hearing Wednesday afternoon in City Hall, and Taylor has introduced enabling legislation in Harrisburg.
Clarke's main plan is to boost the Housing Trust Fund fee from $70 to $100 for registering a deed or mortgage in the city. During the real estate downturn, that revenue stream has fallen from $14 million a year to about $8 million. The fee increase could add $3.5 million to $5.5 million annually, depending on home sales.
That's a relatively pain-free means of bolstering the housing fund. But it would come on top of an earlier $30 deed and mortgage fee hike that goes into the city budget. That has apparently given the Nutter administration second thoughts, even though the fee is small in the context of large real estate transactions.
So Clarke has an alternative, which calls for diverting into the housing fund half of the recent $30 increase. That would mean an up to $2 million adjustment in the city budget.
Either way, investing in the housing fund makes good sense. By supporting affordable housing, as well as providing rent and mortgage-foreclosure aid, the fund helps stabilize neighborhoods, create jobs, and backstop the city's tax base.