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Committee delays vote on mixed-income housing bill

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After more than five hours of testimony

A decision on the mixed-income housing bill proposed for Philly has been pushed back to December.
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After Monday’s public hearing that stretched more than five hours, City Council’s committee on rules decided to delay its public meeting and vote on the proposed mixed-income housing bill until Tuesday, December 5.

At its core, the mixed-income housing bill proposes requiring development projects that include 10 units or more to set aside 10 percent of the units for affordable housing. Currently, the zoning code has a similar, but voluntary, inclusionary program; the bill would make it mandatory.

The mixed-income housing bill was first proposed by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez of District 7 in June, just before City Council broke for summer recess. In the months leading up to the public hearing, developers and affordable housing advocates denounced and backed the bill, respectively.

Yet just days before the public hearing, Quiñones-Sánchez released an amended bill that made significant changes, including the reduction of bonus incentives for developers and limiting the bill’s reach to just Center City neighborhoods, specifically those that are zoned commercial mixed-use (CMX) districts and residential (RMX 3 and RMX 4).

At Monday’s public hearing, 30 people testified on Bill No. 170678 and the testimonies were a mixed bag. But most could agree on the fact that the significant amendments came as a surprise and that the bill as it stands is imperfect.

Quiñones-Sánchez said as much at the start of the public hearing, noting, “I agree that this bill does not go far enough. [...] This program alone will not solve the affordable housing crisis.”

Anne Fadullon, the city’s director of planning and development, testified for the first 90 minutes of the public hearing, setting the tone and explaining the current housing situation in Philadelphia. “It must be stated,” she began at the start of her remarks, “that the need for affordable housing in Philadelphia is real.”

It was a common sentiment expressed throughout the five-hour-long hearing, with many bringing up the fact that 25.7 percent of Philadelphians live in poverty. In addition, affordable housing supply has been dwindling, due to a number of reasons that include reduction of federal funding over the years and current affordable housing stock aging out of the compliance, according to Fadullon.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority, for example, has been building affordable housing for the city, but much of its development includes upgrading or replacing existing stock. “There’s no real net gain,” Fadullon said.

But while the need for affordable housing exists, Fadullon continued, the bill’s economic consequences on affordable housing, the Housing Trust Fund revenues, and development need better understanding.

Like many housing advocates and organizations that testified, the Crosstown Coalition said it supported the idea of inclusionary zoning, but requested that more time was needed to consider the amended bill.

“The elephant in this room is that the committee expects reasoned comments from citizens on a bill which was delivered less than two business days ago,” said Steve Huntington of the Crosstown Coalition, which includes more than 30 local civic groups.

Meanwhile, members of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill since it was proposed six months ago, reiterated its belief that the mandate would hinder, not promote, development in Philadelphia.

Developer Carl Dranoff, who has a majority of his projects in Center City, said the bill has noble intent but called it “very flawed.” He continued, saying that the included bonuses for developers to include affordable housing are “woefully insufficient” to offset the costs of building in Center City.

The current bill would allow builders to choose to increase the maximum base floor area ratio by a factor of 1.3 to 1.8 if they opt into including affordable housing. Or, they’d pay in lieu to the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund in the amount of $11,250 to $30,400 per dwelling unit.

Developer Leo Addimando, a member of the Building Industry Association, also argued that the amendment to limit this bill to just Center City was problematic. Density should be increased in neighborhoods outside of Center City, he said, not in the core of the city, “which is already the most dense area in the city.”

Although not on the Committee of Rules, City Council President Darrell Clarke stopped in to testify, saying that local government has a moral duty to provide equitable housing for the city. Clarke, who is a sponsor of the bill, implored Dranoff and other developers to be a part of the affordable housing solution.

“At the end of the day, people that need affordable housing, we are all they have,” he said. “We are asking your industry to try to work with us on a local level to try to stimulate affordable housing.”

The committee on rules will hold a public meeting on the mixed-income housing bill on Tuesday, December 5.

Read the full amended mixed-income housing bill