Affordable housing mandates. A lower wage tax. Tax credits for landlords who rent units to low-income tenants.
These are some of the anti-poverty goals City Council has set with a legislative package put forward this month. But representatives of some local nonprofits said the legislation does not go far enough.
“They are very far sweeping bills that could impact a lot of people and can possibly work toward reducing the poverty rate in our city,” said Rasheedah Phillips, managing attorney of Community Legal Services. “I think generally they need some work and I think they need some amendments that are more in line with the reality happening on the ground.”
And Nora Lichtash, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities, said her group fears “that this will not reach the people who need it the most. We need to make sure that legislation that passes focuses on the poorest people, and given their history, that hasn’t been the case.”
Nancy Salandra, a member of the Disabled In Action, a nonprofit advocating for disabled individuals and those in poverty, agreed.
She said she thinks the legislation is a political ploy in a year when all 17 seats on City Council and the mayor are up for election.
“We don’t believe that has any teeth and the city doesn’t have the political will to really put the millions of dollars they need to put in to really fund affordable housing,” Salandra said.
Jane Roh, Council President Darrell Clarke’s spokeswoman, said in an email that Clarke, the main sponsor of the bills, was committed to working with stakeholders on the legislation.
“He [Clarke] intends to work hard to build support and consensus among his colleagues, with the administration, with the business community, and with affordable housing and anti-poverty advocates, to ensure this legislation is effective and produces meaningful results,” Roh said.
The City Council’s six pieces of legislation propose to:
Mandate developers who purchase city-owned property set aside 33 percent of units for affordable housing where at least three units are constructed. Known as inclusionary zoning or housing, the mandate also sets caps on household income for those affordable housing units.
Reduce the city’s Net Profits Tax on salaries and wages and businesses, which would be in line with the city’s five-year plan.
Provide a tax credit for landlords who rent to low-income tenants. Landlords would be able to exclude 10 percent of the rent they receive from renting a unit to a low-income tenant from the Business Income and Receipts Taxes.
Establish housing protections for formerly incarcerated individuals. Known as “fair chance housing,” owners and landlords would be prohibited from inquiring about the criminal history of rental housing applicants, except for sexual assault offenses, or denying an applicant because of his or her criminal history.
Require owners of rental units to report rental license information for each rental unit in the city twice a year, including address, license number and name of the owner.
Create a low-income defense fund for low-income tenants fighting eviction.
City Council has yet to schedule hearings on the legislation.
Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said in an email that the Kenney administration was dedicated to reducing poverty and will work with City Council on the legislative package.
“We look forward to discussing Council’s proposed strategies and how they align with our current initiatives,” he said.
Phillips, of Community Legal Services, said she was “surprised and excited” about the package of anti-poverty bills, but questioned the practicability of some of the legislation.
Phillips called the tax credit for landlords who rent to low-income tenants a “creative idea,” but the program would need more tenant protections to ensure slumlords do not game the system. While providing fair chance housing and protections for formerly incarcerated individuals was a positive step, excluding those with criminal histories of sexual assault was overly broad and undercuts the spirit of the bill, she said.
“Sexual assault itself is arbitrary as the standard to look at for what makes a good tenant,” Phillips said.
Phillips also said she believed City Council’s renewed effort at mandatory inclusionary zoning was conservative. She called for a more comprehensive approach.
“It’s not enough,” Phillips said, but added, “I think anything that is mandatory that has an affordable housing provision is better than nothing ....”
The city’s affordable housing stock has been on the decline for years. Philadelphia lost more than 37,300 low-cost rental units priced under $750 between 2000 and 2015.
City Council considered making inclusionary housing mandatory part of a new affordable housing program in 2017, but made it voluntary after pushback from developers. The Mixed-Income Housing Program, which passed last year, offers developers density increases for new developments in exchange for setting aside 10 percent of those units for affordable housing.
It’s too early to determine the success of the Mixed-Income Housing Program, but Chrystie said that “a number of developers have initiated discussions with the City about accessing the affordable housing density bonus.”
Developers and buyers in areas with strong real estate markets appear to favor three-family unit developments, Roh said, which is how the council president’s office landed on the three-unit minimum for the mandatory affordable housing requirement.
Asked if Clarke anticipated blowback from developers over the inclusionary zoning mandate, Roh said the council president has welcomed input and expertise of developers and builders.
“He [Clarke] believes the surest path to success for any industry requirement or housing initiative requires consensus-building among disparate parties,” Roh said.
Until Philadelphia solves its affordable housing shortage, Salandra said, the city’s 26 percent poverty rate will not decline.
“Without stable housing,” she said, “you can’t keep a job, you don’t send your kid to schools .... It is a huge problem.”
Salandra called on officials to commit at least $20 million a year to the Housing Trust Fund.
Last year, City Council pledged to commit more than $70 million to the Housing Trust Fund over five years after legislation was scuttled that would have created a construction impact tax, which could have raised an estimated $22 million a year for the Housing Trust Fund. Kenney, in his recent budget address, called for dedicating $80 million to the Housing Trust Fund over six years.