THE CITY'S recently approved plan to seize more than a dozen privately owned properties to build affordable housing in Point Breeze sparked debate over which properties truly are affordable and who actually is moving in.
"It's a matter of who can afford to pay $150,000 for a home," Rita Wheelings, 60, said after a recent Council hearing. "I'm looking at mothers with children that can't pay $600 a month in rent."
Since 2009, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) has funded 41 affordable houses using about $6.2 million in federal funds within the Point Breeze Urban Renewal Area bounded by Washington Avenue, Broad, Moore and 20th streets.
Nearly half of the units have been sold, nine are under agreement, and 10 are unsold. Twenty-four homes were priced between $90,000 and $150,000; two as high as $179,000. Also, 18 of the households are minority or multiracial. The city could not provide data on where the homeowners lived previously.
"We need to keep a balance so people who can't afford a house will be able to afford [a house]," said Claudia Sherrod, president of South Philadelphia HOMES, a Point Breeze community group.
Development is booming in Point Breeze, a neighborhood not far from Center City. Some longtime residents fear they will be priced out, and in an effort to maintain affordability in a gentrifying neighborhood, Council recently approved a Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority plan to take 17 privately owned properties to build affordable housing.
But private developer Ori Feibush of OCF Realty - who opposed the plan to seize private properties in Point Breeze and made headlines this year for a fight with the city over a vacant lot - has said that some homeowners are "making business decisions" between buying an affordable house and one at the market rate.
Feibush was referring to his co-worker Jesse Barnes' clients, a married couple who qualified for an NSP-funded affordable house. They are buying an NSP-funded three-bedroom home just outside the Urban Renewal Area for $215,000 - a home that Barnes said would have sold for tens of thousands more at market rate. But Barnes said the couple could also afford a market-rate home in the area, which has dozens of homes for sale at prices similar to what the program subsidized.
"The goal of this was to allow for houses and opportunities for individuals who wouldn't otherwise have it," said Feibush, adding that there are no asset-disclosure requirements. "You're not creating new homeowners who otherwise couldn't live in this home or another. You're creating a windfall for some."
One of the goals of the NSP is to promote mixed-income neighborhoods, said Paul Chrystie, spokesman for the redevelopment authority, who noted that 25 of the households earn less than the area's median income.
"Under NSP, that house will be affordable for 15 years," said Chrystie. "In this particular neighborhood, assuming the market continues, those market-rate homes they can afford today will not be affordable tomorrow."