New city law requires affordable housing in new developments

Philadelphia City Council has passed legislation to address affordable housing in Philadelphia. It’s the first mandatory legislation of its kind that includes units of affordable housing as a part of new housing development projects.

The bill was introduced by Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, and María Quiñones Sánchez, D-7th District, applying to housing projects in those districts.

Under this legislation, 20% of any new buildings that house 10 or more units within the districts’ overlay boundaries must be set aside for affordable housing, with restricted pricing for 50 years.

“The continued growth of our city is important, but it’s unacceptable if it comes at the detriment of vulnerable Philadelphians,” Gauthier said. “With many developers prioritizing profits, regardless of the social repercussions, the best way for us to ensure that affordable housing options remain available in desirable neighborhoods over the long-term is to enact policy change. I’m grateful to Councilmember Sánchez for her partnership in this effort and to my Council colleagues for their support of this legislation.”

At least 15% of the units have to be on-site of the housing project; however, the bill offers the chance to apply for a waiver from the Planning Department to fill up to 5% of the requirement with other housing opportunities.

The units have to be affordable to renters who earn up to 40% of the area’s median income and up to 60% of the median income for owner-occupied households.

Currently, there are incentives to build affordable housing under the Philadelphia Zoning Code. Still, it’s only optional, and there are no requirements based on where development projects are being done.

“Diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods need strong public policy that incentivizes and promotes equitable development,” Sánchez said. “Piloting more aggressive public policy will help us meet the greater housing needs.”

As housing developments continue to break ground throughout the city, demand for more affordable units exceeds supply.

According to a news release from Gauthier’s office, only 30% of the available units in her district cost less than $750 a month. In addition, only 35% of the people in that area can afford to pay $750 and up in monthly rental agreements.

This legislation attempts to bridge the gap as gentrification drives up the prices of housing options throughout Philadelphia.

“This legislation has the potential to significantly expand housing opportunities for Philadelphians, and help to create integrated neighborhoods with improved health and quality of life between and across generations — making possible a more equitable, inclusive future in Philadelphia,” said Rasheedah Phillips, managing attorney for housing policy at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “The legislation is practical, simple to administer, sustainable, and balances the needs of developers and housing providers with the individuals and families who will access affordable quality housing, and the communities they will all live, work, play, grow, and thrive in.”

The Rev. Jay Broadnax of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church said there’s a need for blending socioeconomic backgrounds in the district’s neighborhoods, and that these new developments have an opportunity to achieve that.

“We need legislation that encourages that kind of balance, and I believe that this Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Overlay Bill is a critical first step in helping to foster that kind of balance,” he said.

Once signed by Mayor Jim Kenney, the bill would go into effect after six months.