The Philadelphia Housing Authority has set a goal of creating 6,000 new affordable housing units through partnerships with public, private, nonprofit, and publicly-minded organizations.
The PHA Board recently approved a new policy that will expand the agency’s development and redevelopment efforts. The policy also signals PHA’s intention to work collaboratively towards that end.
The housing authority’s inventory is approximately 6,000 units below the federal limit. The result is unused subsidy authority and missed opportunities to create more housing. With a waiting list of over 100,000 people, the demand for affordable housing in Philadelphia is critical. This ambitious plan is PHA’s attempt to address that ever-increasing need.
The new policy empowers PHA to consider partnership proposals from developers that would allow the agency to direct subsidies to some units in a development, encouraging mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods. PHA will give priority to proposals that will serve “at-risk” populations, including veterans, the homeless, persons with disabilities, and youth aging out of foster care, among others.
The agency will also seek locations that give residents easy access to transportation, education, health care, and other services, also known as “access to opportunity.”
“PHA has been working on repositioning its real estate portfolio,” said Kelvin Jeremiah, Interim Executive Director. “We realized some time ago that we need to do this through well-formed public-private partnerships with organizations or groups who have the expertise to serve city residents in need of affordable housing. The agency cannot meet that demand by itself.”
Jeremiah also said that open and transparent policies are critical if PHA is to maximize partnerships and conduct development activities that are consistent with the agency’s mission. He believes that the new policy lays the groundwork for an aggressive effort to create housing opportunities and revitalize neighborhoods.
PHA has the largest scattered site portfolio in the United States and has been working to divest itself of some of those properties via public auction and disposition to nonprofit groups in the city. This new policy, however, will also promote large-scale development deals with the goal of assembling properties that are adjacent or close to each other.
“We are looking for opportunities where PHA’s participation makes a development proposal viable,” Jeremiah said. “That way, we can preserve or develop affordable housing opportunities, many of which were lost when the high-rises were demolished and units were not replaced one-for-one.”
The new development policy is also in line with Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s priority of combating blight in the city. Preference will be given to proposals that incorporate surplus vacant property owned by PHA, the City, the School District of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, or other public agencies. Both the School District and the Archdiocese have closed a number of schools and have plans to close even more in the future, in addition to the churches that have been closed by the Archdiocese.
Other features of the new policy include a requirement that site designs contain defensible space to promote safety. The use of sustainable materials and designs that meet Enterprise Green Communities or LEED standards is also strongly encouraged.
Additional information will be posted on PHA’s web site, www.pha.phila.gov.