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Amid debate and protest, City Council passes affordable housing package

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Council says the HTF will see an additional $100 million over the next five years.

New construction underway on Girard Avenue in Fishtown. Photo by Melissa Romero

City Council passed a package of bills Thursday that will they believe will help answer the need for more affordable housing in Philly.

The package includes an inclusionary zoning bill, which will give height, density, and size bonuses to developers who include affordable housing units in their construction. They can also pay money to the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) in lieu of actually building the units—money that would help fund affordable or middle-income housing.

Also included in the package was a bill that appropriates $19 million from the city’s general fund to the HTF in the next fiscal year, with plans to make additional payments over the next four years. A final bill in the package establishes that the money will be spent on affordable and middle-income housing projects.

Overall, council expects that $19 per year will be moved from the general fund to the HTF. That, along with the money generated by the inclusionary zoning bill, should amount to at least $20 million in the HTF each year, according to a release from the City Council President Darrell Clarke’s office Thursday.

Council’s nearly unanimous decision to pass the package of bills Thursday was met with public outrage from a group who attended the meeting.

Resident Tiffany Greene said the decision to give height bonuses to developers is detrimental to rowhome owners, who will be forced to see the buildings around them grow up to 60 feet.

“This bill needs to be done by district and not city-wide,” she added.

Other speakers urged council to make the inclusionary zoning bill mandatory, so developers have to create affordable housing units along with any new construction.

The contentious nature of the meeting was fitting, given the issue’s history. Since council first started discussing ways to fund more affordable housing last year, the topic has drawn debate, controversy, and outrage. It reached a head this summer, when council members passed a controversial construction tax bill, which would put a 1 percent tax on all new construction in the city, with the resulting revenue going to the HTF to fund affordable housing measures.

It was speculated that Mayor Jim Kenney would veto the bill, but instead he and council members came to a compromise last month; Kenney promised that $53 million would be transferred from the general fund to the HTF over the course of five years. That, along with an estimated $18 million generated by a new inclusionary zoning bill, would help fund affordable housing.

But the compromise between mayor and council last month—which amounted to a total of $71 million to the HTF over five years—is a pretty far cry from council’s new $100 million promise. A representative for Kenney’s office did not immediately return a message for clarification on the $29 million discrepancy Thursday.

“City Council is committed to appropriate no less than $100 million to the Housing Trust Fund over the next five years,” Councilmember Maria Quinones-Sanchez emphasized following the meeting.

  • The construction tax bill, explained [Curbed Philly]
  • Mayor, council strike compromise on affordable housing proposal [Curbed Philly]