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Phila. Lawmakers Announce Plan For Construction of 1,500 Low-Cost Homes

(City councilmembers, union leaders, and others gather in City Council chambers for the housing plan announcement.  Photo by Mike Dunn)

(City councilmembers, union leaders, and others gather in City Council chambers for the housing plan announcement. Photo by Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Members of City Council today unveiled a plan to build 1,500 new, affordable housing units on what are now vacant, tax-delinquent parcels throughout Philadelphia.

Whether the mayor will get on board, though, is still to be determined.

City Council president Darrell Clarke and six other district councilmembers are proposing that the city government borrow $100 million to finance a project that would build 1,500 new, affordable properties over the next three or four years, mainly in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Clarke (second from left, holding microphone) says the demand for such housing is neverending.

“Every time there’s affordable housing units built by one of these developers, be it nonprofit or for-profit, there’s a line around the corner for people trying to be in a position to take advantage of that,” Clarke said today.

Two-thirds of the new properties would be rental units, the remainder would be for purchase.   The rental component would tap into federal tax credits that aides to Clarke say are now being left on the table.

Specifically, they estimate that Pennsylvania misses out on $500 million in four-percent, low-income housing tax credits because most developers apply for a nine-percent tax credit that is in greater demand.

The program would also make use of Philadelphia Housing Authority affordable housing subsidies.

Councilman Curtis Jones (third from left in photo) says this approach makes sense:

“Each year we leave money on the table from the federal government that could be used for affordable housing.  Each year.  For the first time we’re actually talking about how to utilize that money in a meaningful way.  Why would you not put that money into the local economy, put that money into the pool of affordable housing?   It’s just sad to think that we haven’t done it before.”

But this requires the cooperation of the Nutter administration, and Clarke is hopeful the mayor will support the plan.

“It’s clear that the borrowing for this particular program will actually have to be initiated by the administration,” Clarke acknowledges.  “But given the fact that we’ve identified (how the city will make) debt service payments, from our perspective it’s a no-brainer.”

A spokesman for Mayor Nutter said administration officials “just found out” about the proposal and they “look forward to learning more about it.”  The spokesman, Mark McDonald, said questions would include how this proposal would mesh with an affordable housing program launched by the PHA one year ago.

The Clarke initiative comes on the heels of a related plan backed by the mayor:  the creation of a “land bank” to speed up the resale of vacant properties.

Clarke says the land bank would also play a key role in this initiative.

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