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City Council votes for affordable housing funding and protections for homeowners during construction

The city's construction boom, the pandemic, and ongoing calls for more housing helped drive policy changes meant to protect neighbors from adjacent construction and create more affordable housing.

Councilperson Jamie Gauthier speaks at a rally calling for funding for the Housing Trust Fund outside City Hall in May.
Councilperson Jamie Gauthier speaks at a rally calling for funding for the Housing Trust Fund outside City Hall in May.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

City Council approved legislation Thursday to help protect neighbors from construction in adjoining properties and to ask voters to designate funding for affordable housing in Philadelphia’s budget.

Council members voted for automatic funding for the Housing Trust Fund, but the final decision to amend the Home Rule Charter to allow for funding in the budget rests with Philadelphia voters. The question will appear on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election.

If voters approve the allocation, the fund will receive at least half of 1% of the general fund budget — roughly $25 million.

The Housing Trust Fund helps create housing for people with low incomes and accessible homes for people with disabilities. It helps Philadelphians repair their homes and provides rent subsidies and mortgage assistance. Advocates have said they are frustrated that they have to keep fighting for city money for the fund. Deed recording fees also feed into the fund, as well as deposits from developers in exchange for zoning bonuses, such as the ability to build a structure taller than local zoning allows.

» READ MORE: Philly City Council is considering mandatory funding to boost affordable and accessible housing

“This is critical legislation that comes at an extremely critical time in our city,” Councilmember Derek Green, who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “We have witnessed the devastating role that a lack of accessible, affordable housing plays in the lives of many of our most vulnerable and at-risk citizens like our seniors and members of the disability community, whom I hear from frequently about this disgraceful and embarrassing matter.”

The Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities supports the legislation that the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, a member, helped craft.

“We applaud Council members for their understanding of the affordable housing crisis in our city and for taking action by passing this legislation to create a dedicated source of funding that will make a real difference for thousands of Philadelphians who deserve an affordable place to call home,” Nora Lichtash, executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, said in a statement.

» READ MORE: How City Council’s budget vote will help keep Philadelphians housed (from June 2020)

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration opposed the automatic budget allocation for the fund, arguing that other monies are going toward creating affordable housing and that the city needs flexibility in its budget to handle future needs and challenges.

The bill includes a provision that allows the city to redirect the money meant for the Housing Trust Fund in emergencies.

Council members also approved a bill Thursday meant to ensure that excavation work is done safely by qualified contractors and that neighboring property owners are better informed about construction work. Philadelphia will require separate permits in most cases for contractors who dig deeper than five feet underground. The city will require applicants to have excavation licenses, excavation plans, and pre-construction surveys that document the condition of adjacent buildings. Property owners or their contractors would need to hire building professionals to perform inspections and structural checks of adjoining properties.

The bill also adds protections for historically designated properties when excavation occurs next door or construction or demolition occurs on or near the historic sites.

» READ MORE: City Council bill aims to protect neighbors from construction accidents

The city will require permit holders to inform adjacent property owners of project details, protective measures, and ways to contact them with questions and concerns. Lack of information is a common concern among neighbors.

The city’s construction boom has resulted in more construction accidents and damage to properties caused by unsafe excavation next door. The Riverwards L+I Coalition, the group neighbors formed to advocate on behalf of residents affected by construction in the Fishtown area, said that the legislation was a step in the right direction but that residents need more protections and that developers — not just contractors — need to be held accountable.

The new requirements, which will be enforced by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.