In Council News, Jamie Gauthier, Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, News by admin

Goal of legislation is to generate more affordable housing in areas of the 3rd and 7th Districts that are especially vulnerable to development pressures

PHILADELPHIA – Today, City Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) and María Quiñones Sánchez’s (7th District) Mixed Income Neighborhoods Overlay Bill, which aims to require that affordable housing be part of new large development projects, passed out of the Rules Committee with a favorable recommendation. This bill will apply to select tracts of the 3rd and 7th Districts that are seeing increased market pressures where Philadelphia residents will be especially vulnerable to displacement without additional policy interventions.

“Philadelphia is in the midst of a full-blown housing crisis. If we continue to do nothing, housing prices will continue to go up, and the Black and brown people who are the backbone of this city will continually be pushed to the fringes,” said Councilmember Gauthier. “This legislation aims to ensure that affordable housing continues to be available in neighborhoods where new developments are built – and that Philadelphians of all income levels can continue to access amenity-rich neighborhoods. I’m grateful to Councilmember Sánchez for her partnership, and to my colleagues on the Rules Committee for their consideration and support of this important legislation.”

The bill would require 20 percent of the units in any new housing development with ten or more residential units within the overlay boundaries be made available at restricted pricing for a 50-year period. The bill offers the chance to apply to the Planning Department to fulfill a portion of that requirement via offsite units or an increased Housing Trust Fund contribution. These units must be affordable for rental households earning up to 40 percent area median income (AMI), and for owner-occupied households earning up to 60 percent of AMI. Property owners would be entitled to additional development rights, such as additional building height or reduced parking requirements. These rights vary depending on the base zoning of the property.“Diverse, mixed income neighborhoods need strong public policy that incentivizes and promotes equitable development,” said Councilmember Sánchez. “Piloting more aggressive public policy will help us meet the greater housing needs.”

The Philadelphia Zoning Code currently has a program that incentivizes property owners to build affordable housing, but it is optional and does not require new units to be built in the neighborhoods where development is occurring. Both Councilmembers see the Housing Trust Fund as a vital resource for creating housing security here in Philadelphia, but they recognize that there is a significant opportunity for on-site affordability that presents itself with regard to new development projects, and that this should not be taken for granted, especially in neighborhoods that are experiencing heavy development pressure and are vulnerable to gentrification.

This legislation is supported by community development experts, community leaders, and local housing advocates, who testified in today’s hearing.

In its current form, this legislation has the potential to significantly expand housing opportunities for Philadelphians, and help to create integrated neighborhoods with improved health and quality of life between and across generations—making possible a more equitable, inclusive future in Philadelphia,” said Rasheedah Phillips, managing attorney for housing policy at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “In fostering these equitable outcomes, this legislation could mean that someone’s racial identity and income level does not have to determine their life opportunities and results, such as access to a safe home in amenity-rich neighborhoods. The legislation is practical, simple to administer, sustainable, and balances the needs of developers and housing providers with the individuals and families who will access affordable quality housing, and the communities they will all live, work, play, grow, and thrive in.”

“All of today’s investors and stakeholders must account for how current investment values that are rising are built on a history of racial inequity,” said Dr. Davarian Baldwin, professor at Trinity College and founding director of the Smart Cities Lab. “We cannot change this past, but we can alter the course of the future. Bill 210633 begins the process of repair by accounting for a history of inequity, to create a new vision of equitable planning. Let Philadelphia serve as a beacon to the nation by building out a vision of urban revitalization where development can happen, yes – and still, a cross section of the city’s residents can remain to enjoy its benefits.”

“What we’re concerned about is balance—finding ways that development and opportunities for residents in the neighborhoods allow for a blending of people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Reverend Jay Broadnax of Mt. Pisgah AME Church. “We need legislation that encourages that kind of balance, and I believe that this Mixed Income Neighborhoods Overlay Bill is a critical first step in helping to foster that kind of balance.”

“Mantua residents are seeing an enormous amount of development. However, we would like to see development that includes us and is accessible to us,” said Mantua resident Rikeyah Lindsay. “The people who are already here may not be able to afford market-rate housing, but would very much like to maintain positions in our neighborhoods, grow our families here, and build into the neighborhoods that we’ve been part of for generations.”

“We are seeing how some neighborhoods are quickly gentrifying and becoming unaffordable for those who may have lived here their whole lifetimes – who have been working hard to raise families in a stable place,” said Andy Toy, policy director at the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. “There are now a number of studies showing that mixed income neighborhoods create long-term, positive opportunities and impacts for residents. A mixed income neighborhood overlay district is one very important tool to build more equitable neighborhoods.”

“Requiring a portion of developments to be affordable is an important and necessary step to provide housing that average Philadelphians can afford,” said Nicole Westerman, Director of Real Estate and Economic Development at New Kensington CDC. “Philadelphia has the distinction of being the nation’s poorest large city, year after year after year. This legislation is long overdue. If passed, it will slow the rate at which Philadelphians are being priced out of their neighborhoods.”

This zoning bill is just one tool of many that are needed to truly address Philadelphia’s affordable housing crisis. A study commissioned by Councilmember Gauthier last year showed nearly half of 3rd District households are housing cost burdened, meaning they spend over 30 percent of their income on housing expenses. The demand for affordable units well outpaces the supply in Districts like the 3rd that are experiencing significant market pressures. Seventy percent of 3rd District rental units cost more than $750 per month, a price that is only affordable to 35 percent of renter households. While it will not solve this affordability gap by itself, a bill like this will ensure that neighborhoods experiencing gentrification get affordable units created at the same time.

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