It was disappointing to see PlanPhilly/Philly.com publish John Kromer’s deeply flawed analysis comparing City Council’s 1,500 New Affordable Housing Units Initiative with the Street Administration’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI).
As I travel across the City, I am keenly aware of the impact NTI has had in the neighborhoods. While it is true NTI and Council’s current proposal share similar goals, their objectives are quite different. As a former housing director, Mr. Kromer should have known better than to attempt an apples-to-apples comparison on PlanPhilly/Philly.com.
City Council’s Affordable Housing Initiative is designed to address the problems of growing economic segregation among Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and a severe shortage in affordable housing. It seeks to leverage underutilized subsidies and the City’s ample supply of publicly owned vacant properties to rapidly develop new affordable housing units. It is a development initiative, whereas NTI was a pre-development program that targeted blight, vacant lots and structures that posed immediate danger to residents.
It is to my understanding that NTI oversaw in a four year period, the cleanup of 60,804 lots in which 44,062 tons of debris were removed; the demolition of 6,022 dangerous and blighted structures; and the removal of 224,886 abandoned cars – that is a staggering amount by any measure.
Instead of comparing the accomplishments of NTI in both housing investment and neighborhood improvement to that of efforts of other administrations, Mr. Kromer muses about an absence of “leadership that’s needed now in order to address today’s top priorities.” When Council President Clarke announced the 1,500 New Affordable Housing Units Initiative last week, he and the rest of Council were demonstrating leadership on the issues of housing, neighborhood improvement and economic growth.
Rather than compare a housing development proposal with an anti-blight program that included some housing development, Mr. Kromer’s time would have been better spent examining whether Council’s housing development proposal addresses real needs in Philadelphia neighborhoods. Had he done so, he might have found the following:
· The Philadelphia Housing Authority was forced to close its waiting list after applications for affordable housing exceeded 100,000
· Developers report receiving more than 50 applications for each available affordable housing rental unit
· More than 116,000 renter households whose household incomes are 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) or less pay between 30% and 50% of their household income for rent and are considered moderately burdened by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
· More than 70,000 renter households whose household incomes are 80% of AMI pay more than 50% of their household income for rent and are considered severely burdened by HUD. Of these households, 60,000 have household incomes of 30% of AMI or less
· According to the nonpartisan National Low Income Housing Coalition, a single-parent household earning the Pennsylvania minimum wage would have to work 95 hours per week, 52 weeks for year, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) of $895 per month
The need is real. Council’s plan is designed to address it. While blight removal and neighborhood improvement are not the primary goals of the 1,500 New Affordable Housing Units Initiative, they will certainly be among the many beneficial results. Mr. Kromer seems to forget that there are already more than 9,000 publicly owned vacant properties in the City’s inventory that can be used to implement this initiative. A fully operational Land Bank will be key to transferring privately owned vacant and tax-delinquent properties into the public inventory, but for the purposes of this initiative is not critical to implementation.
Mr. Kromer also seems to have missed the great news we received last November: Thanks in part to PHA Executive Director Kelvin Jeremiah’s great leadership, the City has received a $500,000 grant to revitalize the Blumberg Apartments. This important project in North Philadelphia is well under way.
With good leadership and collaboration among City agencies and departments, Philadelphia can be an example to other cities of how to encourage healthy, mixed-income neighborhoods where even lower-income households can live near jobs, fresh and affordable groceries, and clean recreation areas. The tide of the economic recovery is not lifting all boats, by any stretch. The time to build an affordable future in the City of Philadelphia is now.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco represents and serves over 150,000 Philadelphia residents in areas including West and East Oak Lanes, Mt. Airy, Olney, Logan, Lawncrest, and Oxford Circle.