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The High Cost of ‘Affordable’ Housing

17 Jul

There is an affordable housing crisis across the country. The demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply. In the nation’s poorest big city, the Philadelphia Housing Authority spends nearly $400,000 for each new “affordable” rental unit. With 42,886 people on its wait list, PHA would need $17,154,400,000 — more than four times the annual operating budget of the City of Philadelphia — to provide housing for those currently on its wait list. And by the way, PHA’s wait list is closed:

PHA closed its Public Housing Program wait lists on April 15, 2013. The wait list will reopen when PHA determines that the average wait time for housing has reached an acceptable level. The public will be notified through advertisement on this website.

Frontline and NPR recently investigated how billions are spent to house the poor but fewer housing units are being built.

In December 2016, PHA welcomed residents to 57 new apartments that cost the housing authority a whopping $21.9 million. The project was partly financed with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Before the paint was barely dry the contractor, Domus Inc., filed a lawsuit alleging PHA “repeatedly changed the terms of the contract, refused to cooperate with the contractor and delayed payment.”

Domus v. PHA

If Domus wins its case, the cost for one unit of LIHTC-funded “affordable” housing could be more than $400,000. To put PHA’s construction costs in context, the median home value in Philadelphia is $142,000. The city’s median income is $41,233; 44 percent of households have an annual income of less than $35,000.

Domus and PHA will face off before Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney on July 18, 2017. Stay tuned.

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Ridge on the Rise

14 Dec

Back in the day, Ridge Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor. The heart and soul of North Philadelphia was also an entertainment district. The Blue Note was at Ridge and 15th Street.

Blue Note

The Bird Cage Lounge was one block up at Ridge and 16th Street. I don’t know whether it was named after him, but Charlie “Bird” Parker played there. The legendary Pearl Bailey began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater, which was at Ridge and 21st Street.

Pearl Theater Collage

Some of the jazz giants who roamed Ridge likely stayed at the LaSalle Hotel, which was across from the Pearl Theater. The hotel was listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Point jazz spot at Ridge and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) was at the western tip of the storied “Golden Strip.”

Ridge began its steep decline in the aftermath of the 1964 Columbia Avenue race riots and construction of the Norman Blumberg Apartments public housing. Fast forward 50 years, Ridge is on the rise.

In 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its top priority. The Sharswood Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan is a massive $500 million project that would, among other things, revitalize the Ridge Avenue corridor.

In an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PHA President and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah wrote:

The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.

PHA’s revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.

In remarks before the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent conference, Marion Mollegen McFadden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted a community has both tangible and intangible assets:

I see preservation’s efforts to recognize and honor the cultural heritage of minority and ethnic groups as a valuable component of strong communities, in particular many of the communities that HUD serves. And I don’t just mean preservation of buildings and places, but also of diverse cultural ties and traditions, the intangible dimensions of heritage that together enrich us as a nation.

McFadden concluded with a quote from HUD Secretary Julián Castro:

History isn’t just a subject for books and documentaries. It’s alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from – and it’s critical that we protect our past for present and future generations.

The Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan raises the question: Does PHA value the area’s tangible and intangible assets that give the neighborhood its identity? If so, will a transformed Ridge Avenue preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage for present and future generations?

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