By Christi Clark
Women’s Community Revitalization Project
Anyone who lives or works in Philadelphia knows that our city has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the country- a poverty rate the stubbornly hangs on around 26% of our 1.5M residents. Despite more than a quarter of our population struggling to make ends meet there has been continued residential development that drives affordable housing options further and further out of the reach of those who need it the most.
For decades communities have been struggling with how to respond to gentrification and working to develop solutions. In 2014 the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities (PCAC) was launched to wage a Development without Displacement campaign- specifically looking to bring more resources to our city’s Housing Trust Fund. That citywide coalition began with 27 organizational members and in the last five years has grown to over 60 community, disability, faith, labor, and urban agriculture groups fighting for the resources our communities deserve.
Many of the organizations that started this new coalition also worked together to fight for the legislation that created Philadelphia’s Housing Trust Fund in 2005. Our Housing Trust Fund supports basic systems home repairs, adaptive modifications, homelessness prevention programs, and new construction with half of all the resources guaranteed to households earning 30% or less of AMI (about $24,000/ year for a family of 4). The Housing Trust Fund has been an invaluable tool to expanding affordable, accessible housing but has been drastically underfunded. PCAC launched its campaign to find significant new resources for that fund.
As with all our campaigns we started with research- looking at how other Housing Trust Funds are funded across the country, identifying possible new sources for ours, and figuring out what could work for us locally. We hired researchers, collected stories from our members, and continued to build our coalition until we were ready to put forward a demand: a construction impact tax. The idea behind the impact tax is that we wanted developers to pay for the impact they were having on neighborhood affordability by paying a tax on new development into the Housing Trust Fund.
After three years of organizing, building our power, and taking action we won the construction impact tax. It took developing the leadership of people directly impacted by housing insecurity, having them share their stories with the press, at rallies, and in testimony before City Council to create enough pressure to get our elected officials to act. This win was significant but not without challenges. While we won the construction impact tax it passed without a veto-proof majority and the Mayor was considering vetoing the bill. Because of the pressure we had built around the need to fund our Housing Trust Fund, instead of a veto the construction impact tax was ultimately withdrawn and, in its place, was a five-year commitment of nearly $90M from our general fund to the Housing Trust Fund.
After this campaign our coalition was still working to find ongoing resources for our Housing Trust Fund. Building off the momentum we already had built we were able to work with a Councilmember to quickly pass a Commercial Density Bonus. This bonus was an amendment to Philadelphia’s voluntary inclusionary housing bill that now allows commercial developers to add density in exchange for a payment to our Housing Trust Fund. Winning this bill has the potential to generate millions more for our Housing Trust Fund and provide for the production and preservation of truly affordable, accessible housing in Philadelphia.
Christi Clark is the Organizing Director for the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, a member of the PCAC. WCRP is committed to social and economic equity for low income women and their families. WCRP develops affordable housing; provides supportive services; advocates for policy change; and honors and promotes leadership, dignity, and justice Philadelphia. To learn more, contact Christi at firstname.lastname@example.org