Philadelphia needs a comprehensive housing plan | Maria Quiñones Sánchez

Innova Services, a for-profit developer specializing in affordable housing, built 19 homes in Point Breeze for various income levels, ranging in price from $225,000 to $350,000. Designed by Onion Flats, this group at.1416-20 S. Colorado Street averaged $239,000 per home. Innova was able to keep the prices below market because it acquired the land from the city for a dollar.

Meteoric housing prices.

Stagnant wages.

Philadelphia, like many urban peers, is suffering telltale symptoms of an affordable-housing crisis.  City Council understands that no panacea will bring back the 20,000 affordable homes we’ve lost since 2000. The Mixed Income Housing Program will leverage private investment to create and preserve thousands of affordable homes in neighborhoods of mass displacement.  But we, as government leaders, must continue to enact swift, holistic policies before our beloved neighborhoods become stratified and segregated beyond recognition.  Here are some tools that are well within reach:

Redevelop blighted land. The Philadelphia Land Bank (PLB) must wield its unique power to transform blighted properties into thriving neighborhood spaces by acquiring them from tax-delinquent speculators.  If we properly invest in acquisition, the city and its residents stand to gain millions from new, tax-compliant property owners, while saving millions in the remediating blight and crime from vacant lots.

Expand rental supports. The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund (PHTF) must create opportunities to occupy smaller, more efficient housing developments with eligible tenants and purchasers in gentrifying neighborhoods.  The Mixed Income Housing Program presents PHTF an opportunity to develop new rental assistance tools and presents PHA an opportunity to extend the Housing Choice program to homes developed efficiently through public-private partnership.

Target housing preservation. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) must also leverage private investment to rehabilitate vacant blocks into occupied, affordable housing.  Last year, Council President Darrell L. Clarke led the dedication of $100 million in public bond proceeds for the preservation of aging housing stock through public investment in basic systems and home repair loans.  On Monday, PRA joined me to announce a pilot loan program for private partners who renovate vacant properties, block by block, into affordable rental and owner-occupied housing in high-vacancy areas.

Promote affordable and accessible transit corridors. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission must expand incentives for private, affordable development along transit-oriented and commercial corridors where affordable homes provide residents with greater access to jobs, schools, and child care.  On Thursday, I introduced legislation to create transit-oriented density bonuses along the El stops that I represent in the Kensington and Frankford corridors of my Council district.  We can further improve the accessibility and affordability of these underutilized areas for seniors, students, and single adults by permitting first-floor residential uses, fixed rents, and smaller units.

A crisis of housing affordability is not unique to Philadelphia.  Unlike some other major cities, we have an opportunity to act before we have a Manhattan-style crisis. The amount of vacant land we have should provide an opportunity to build a more equitable city. We are in the position now where we can take meaningful action before it is too late.  There is no single cure-all, but taken together, these strategies represent the beginning of a comprehensive housing plan to ensure that Philadelphia remains the diverse, affordable, and accessible city that we are proud to call home.

Maria Quiñones Sánchez is a Democratic Philadelphia city councilwoman representing the Seventh District. @MariaQSanchez