Philly Needs a More Affordable Affordable Housing Policy

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(Photo: AL DIA)

The first phase of the Philadelphia Housing Authority's blockbuster urban renewal project in Sharswood is complete, reports Julia Terruso, but officials are worried that a Trump administration's changing priorities could make it unviable to finish the project.

The first phase of a 10-part, $500 million revitalization project in North Philadelphia is complete - though officials voiced veiled concern about what a new administration in Washington could mean for federal public housing dollars in the future.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority's Sharswood/Blumberg project, 2 1/2 miles north of Center City, unveiled 57 newly constructed single-family units Wednesday.

The units make up the first of more than 1,200 market rate and affordable rentals and homes planned for the area.

For those doing the math at home, that averages out to $416,666 per dwelling--an eye-popping expense over three times as much as Philadelphia's median home value of $131,000.

Needless to say, spending half a billion dollars on 1,200 units is not a scalable approach to providing affordable housing for the estimated 100,000 people still on PHA's waitlist.

Even if it weren't the case that the federal government's housing funding was likely to tighten up, it's clear that half a billion dollars could help many, many more people get into a clean and comfortable home if it was spent differently. The end users are obviously not the primary beneficiaries.

The main trouble with the dominant approach to affordable housing in Philadelphia is that it's mostly based around new construction of reduced-rate units, and there's just no precedent anywhere for the public sector successfully housing tens of thousands of needy people in newly-constructed buildings.

Used housing is affordable housing, and Philadelphia has vast tracts of salvageable rowhouses that can, and should, be renovated for much lower sums per unit.

This is one reason why the new Healthy Rowhouse Project is so exciting. HRP aims to repair and renovate 5,000 rowhomes a year for several orders of magnitude less money than PHA is spending on 1,200 units over 10 years in Sharswood.

This approach won't meet the needs of every low-income person in need of a home, but generally speaking, the premise that used homes are affordable homes should become the foundation of a more affordable affordable housing policy for Philadelphia. 

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  • commented 2016-11-18 14:42:06 -0500
    The high cost of “affordable” housing is obscene. The cost is due to the Davis-Bacon Act requirement to pay “local prevailing wages” on federally-funded or assisted projects. In Philadelphia, that means union wages. The 2016 Republican Platform calls for the repeal of Davis-Bacon, a relic of the Jim Crow era. Short of repeal, President Trump or Congress can waive Davis-Bacon on public projects.
  • published this page in Blog 2016-11-17 17:31:53 -0500