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Council can be

the architect

Nora Lichtash
Nora LichtashRead more

By Nora Lichtash

and Wayne MacManiman Jr.

If you haven't been to downtown Philadelphia recently, the Residences at the Ritz tower is going up at a fast clip. Reflected in its glass facade is City Hall - a telling symbol for what could occur tomorrow, when City Council is to consider a bill that would ensure that high-end developers, like those at the Ritz, do their part to build a city for all Philadelphians.

Philadelphia's story is the consummate tale of two cities, one prosperous and one struggling. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the city's housing market. While transplants from New York City consider Philadelphia "affordable," many low-wage families, senior citizens and disabled residents acutely experience the city's affordable-housing crisis.

The housing crisis isn't new. A 2003 University of Pennsylvania study, "Closing the Gap: Housing (un)Affordability in Philadelphia," documented our city's shortage of 60,000 units of affordable housing. The recent housing boom has made matters worse. While we recognize the value of this prosperity, it has pushed housing prices out of reach for many residents. The National Low Income Housing Coalition's 2006 study, "Out of Reach," said that in "affordable" Philadelphia, nearly two-thirds of all renters could not afford the going rate for a two-bedroom apartment, which averaged $923 a month.

Tomorrow, Council is to consider legislation aimed at addressing these problems. Inclusionary housing is not a panacea, but it would get us closer to solving our city's housing crisis. This program would generate new resources for affordable housing. It would reduce the waiting list for housing-assistance programs. It would help make the housing market work for everyone.

Inclusionary housing requires market-rate developers to build affordable units or contribute money to an affordable-housing fund. More than 300 municipalities across the country have inclusionary-housing laws, and they have produced real results. Boston's legislation, passed in 2000, has generated 500 affordable units and nearly $15 million.

Locally, 35 groups - including ours - formed the Philadelphia Campaign for Housing Justice to bring inclusionary housing to Philadelphia. We hired experts in the field to combine the best elements of inclusionary-housing plans with the specifics of Philadelphia's real estate market. We worked with Councilman Darrell Clarke, who introduced an inclusionary-housing bill last year, to produce amended legislation that we believe would work for our city.

What do we mean by


? The bill would help families affected by the affordable-housing crisis. Half the homes built under inclusionary housing must be sold or rented to families earning, on average, 40 percent of the area's median income. For a family of four, this would be about $29,000. If developers contributed dollars instead of units, the money would go into the Housing Trust Fund, which supports creating and preserving affordable housing. Given our city's high percentage of low-income homeowners, preserving affordable housing is as important as creating new units.

The bill also would work for city government. In recent years, federal and state funding for affordable housing has dwindled or remained stagnant. Resources from the development community would diversify our city's sources of revenue.

The bill also needs to work for developers. While the current bill would provide flexibility by offering developers three options for compliance, good legislation must help offset their costs. Accordingly, this bill would go into effect once Council passed legislation for developer incentives next year.

While we are under no delusions that we have solved our city's affordable-housing crisis, we are heartened by the possibility of narrowing the gap. Council should approve this bill, to help make Philadelphia a city for everyone.