The Lead

Philadelphia City Council passes bill protecting residents in affordable housing

By: - May 6, 2023 6:30 am
Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall (Adobe Stock/The Philadelphia Gay News)

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — City Council has approved legislation that provides some relief and protection for thousands of Philadelphia families living in dwellings where owners have affordable housing contracts set to expire.

Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, who authored the legislation approved Thursday, said more than 12,000 families are living in properties with owners whose affordable housing contracts with the government will expire in the next 10 years.

Many of the owners of those properties could decide to opt out of them, leaving families with little choice but to move out.

“There seems to be this notion that if you are poor or if you are working class it’s OK to be moved out to be shuttled all around because your community is being gentrified and that is not OK,” Gauthier said. “It’s not OK, particularly for Black and brown people who were in these neighborhoods. It is not OK for them to be pushed out and displaced because other people now see these neighborhoods as valuable.”

Since 2021, a similar situation played out for 70 families living at the University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia, which set off a battle between the tenants and their supporters, the owners and the city.

Last month, the city and Gauthier said they reached a $3.5 million settlement agreement with IBID Associates, owner of the UC Townhomes. Under the agreement IBID will transfer a 23,595-square-foot parcel of land on the 2.6 acres set for affordable homes for 70 families. The company will sell or redevelop the rest of the property.

For example, the legislation, known as the “People’s Preservation Package” was introduced by Gauthier and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Kendra Brooks, Michael Driscoll, Kenyatta Johnson, Anthony Phillips and Sharon Vaughn does the following:

Expands the number of groups owners of properties with government subsidizes must notify, if they intend to opt out of the affordable housing contract when it expires;

Gives the city, tenant groups and affordable housing providers an opportunity to match a market-rate offer, in order to keep the dwelling affordable;

Creates a city directory of affordable housing properties and tracks expiration of the government contracts.

“The package of bills does a number of things. First it expands the number of people who need to be notified when an owner decides to opt of an affordable housing contract,” Gauthier said. “Not only do the city and tenants need to be notified, but tenant organizations need to be notified, legal service organizations and neighborhood associations as well.”

In addition, the bill requires a 45-day period through which only the city, tenant groups and affordable housing providers can make an offer on these properties, she said. After 45 days, the law provides an opportunity for any of those groups to offer a matched agreement for sale for private offers that come in.

“We are trying to do as much as possible to be proactive,” Gauthier said. “The entire goal is make sure that we can keep people in their homes, keeping people in their communities and keep units affordable.”

Sheldon Davids, a spokesperson for the UC-Townhomes Resident Council, said the group is still reviewing the legislation and will make a statement when that review is completed.

Meanwhile, as part of the agreement with IBID, the owner of the UC Townhomes, the city has hired the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, to distribute about $50,000 to each of the families who lived there, for the inconvenience and relocation expenses

In 2021, the owner of the complex IBID, said it planned to exit its federal affordable housing contract when it expired and planned to sell the complex.

Built four decades ago, The UC Townhomes was a federally subsidized housing complex for Black and brown residents who were forced out of the neighborhood, known then as “Black Bottom,” by the expansion of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Drexel University. It was a classic case of what housing activists say is gentrification.

As part of the deal, United Way will also provide support services to tenants, to be funded by a group of West Philadelphia institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Penn Medicine, University City Science Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

That year, Gauthier sponsored legislation to protect the townhome complex, banning any demolition of the property for a year and requiring that a portion of any new development in the area must include affordable housing.

Last year, IBID filed suit in Pennsylvania Eastern District court against Gauthier and the city, saying the legislation sought to block the sale of its property and violated its constitutional rights.

In addition, the city has agreed to amend Gauthier’s legislation to exclude IBID from it.

As part of the pact, the families can return when the new affordable units are built on the property, and it will match the same affordability as before, Gauthier said.

To be sure, Gauthier said the UC Townhomes was the most visible example of what happens to families when these contracts expire.

“This is a balanced step in the right direction,” Gauthier said. “With so much at stake doing nothing is not an option.”

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. 

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