For five hours on Nov. 27, residents and developers packed City Hall to debate the Mixed Income Housing Program, an affordable-housing initiative introduced last spring by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Within minutes, Councilmembers Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones, Jr., Clarke, and Quiñones Sánchez titled the story of how we got here: A Tale of Two Cities. The program, they explained, encapsulates years of feedback from local civic organizations, national policy experts, and industry professionals. But its premise is simple: Half of Philadelphians can't afford their homes; we are building for the other half.
Over the past two decades, affluent developers and residents received substantial public subsidy, including a 10-year real estate tax abatement program that diverted School District revenue to stimulate the growth of new Center City homes, such as 500 Walnut Street's $17 million penthouse. Last May, the Building Industry Association boasted that million-dollar home sales were up, up, up, by more than 3,000 percent since the tax abatement program began. Our School District has been collateral damage of this policy initiative.
During the same time period, our city lost more than 20,000 affordable homes. One of every three residents forks over more than half of each paycheck to keep a roof above his or her head. At minimum wage, Philadelphians need to log 128 hours every week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The tale of this city: Families who can't afford an abated luxury loft are footing the bill for higher rents, mortgages, utilities, and taxes. We need to invest in these families the way we already invest in expensive new homes.
City Council will not turn a blind eye to housing segregation. We believe all Philadelphians have the right to live affordably near good jobs, good transit, and good schools. We demand urgency before Center City becomes permanently saturated with luxury homes, while concentrated poverty traps thousands more Philadelphians in low-quality housing, surrounded by struggling schools.
Our Council works tirelessly to ensure that quality of life, choice, and opportunity are not reserved only for a privileged few. A segregated, stratified Philadelphia is not the bright future our city deserves. Mixed income housing is good for us all.