Clarke unveils plan for affordable housing

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke has proposed using one of the city's liabilities - its stock of vacant land - as part of a broad strategy to develop 1,500 affordable housing units.

PHILADELPHIA There's no doubt that Philadelphia needs more affordable housing - last year, one in six households was waiting for an open unit or a subsidy.

But if the city has one thing in abundance, it's vacant and tax-delinquent parcels.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke on Monday proposed using one of the city's liabilities - its stock of vacant land - as part of a broad strategy to develop 1,500 affordable housing units.

The plans also call for a subsidy from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, for $100 million in municipal borrowing, and for the city to take advantage of an underused federal tax credit.

For the announcement, Clarke assembled a group of Council members, labor leaders, and developers of affordable housing, including Rahim Islam, president and chief executive of Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos.

Absent from the gathering was Mayor Nutter.

Clarke, who is being urged by supporters to run for mayor next year, said he had spoken to Nutter only briefly about his proposal.

He acknowledged that his ideas could be implemented only with Nutter's cooperation, and that a city agency ultimately would have to take control of the initiative.

"From our perspective, it's a no-brainer," Clarke said. "This is an initiative that a broad range of people support, and we believe the administration will be supportive."

Clarke's plan calls for 1,000 affordable rental units to be built by private and nonprofit developers with the help of the federal tax credit. The operating costs would be supported by the PHA subsidy and the $100 million in bonds.

The bonds would be paid back from the Housing Trust Fund, which in recent years has collected $7.2 million to $13.8 million annually from the fee for recording mortgages and deeds.

Clarke also wants the city to transfer vacant land and tax-delinquent properties to developers to build 500 houses that would be affordable to the working class.

Clarke called these units "workforce housing," for middle-income home buyers who otherwise would not be able to afford to live in some of the city's hottest real estate markets.

"There's no real housing being built for those individuals," Clarke said.

Much of the early development would be done on vacant, city-owned land, he said. But once the city's land bank starts operating this year, long-term tax-delinquent properties could be added to the inventory and redeveloped.

Clarke's staff identified 12 "opportunity zones" around the city where the plans could be put into place. Each area has at least 50 publicly owned parcels.

Clarke said he particularly wanted to target affordable housing in Francisville, Point Breeze, and Mantua, neighborhoods that have been gentrifying but still have hundreds of vacant parcels.

"If there's not some action by the City of Philadelphia to ensure continued affordability, there will not be a balanced approach . . . to development," he said.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said the administration was looking forward to hearing more about Clarke's initiative.

He noted that PHA, recognizing that the demand for affordable housing far outstrips the supply, launched a plan more than a year ago to build 6,000 units in partnership with developers and community groups.

"We're interested in how this proposal meshes with PHA's plan," he said. "We want to get to a point where we understand what's being proposed and what's already underway."

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