Philly councilmember concerned about affordable housing project not being included in city budget

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Thursday, May 16, 2024
Councilmember concerned over budgeting for affordable housing project
Philly councilmember concerned about affordable housing project not being included in city budget

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Affordable housing remains an issue for the city of Philadelphia.

On average, it's a nine-month wait to get into one of the city's more than 47,000 subsidized housing units.

That's one reason why City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier was concerned to see that one project that would add dozens of affordable units in University City was not included in the mayor's new budget proposal.

The area in question is the site of the former University City townhomes. The corner where the 70 units of affordable townhomes used to sit at 40th and Market streets is now an empty lot waiting for its next phase of development.

"We promised to build 70 new units of affordable housing on this site," said Gautier.

It's a plan she says her constituents need, but she didn't find it included in Mayor Cherelle Parker's 2025 budget, which was proposed in March.

"I wasn't able to identify it in the five-year plan and now I'm advocating to change that reality," she said.

Philadelphia Chief Deputy Mayor Aren Platt confirms that money for the University City Townhomes project is not included in the 2025 budget at the present time, but that doesn't mean it won't be. He says the budget is still being worked on.

"I don't want this to be characterized as this happens now or it never happens," he said. "At the time of writing the budget, it wasn't exactly the right time to include it in the budget."

Platt says when the budget was developed, demolition hadn't yet been done on the site.

In 2022 IBID, the company that owns the land, sparked protests when it chose to not keep the affordable housing that was there. They instead opted to demolish the site and seek a more lucrative development.

The company had been receiving federal subsidies for the prior affordable townhomes. Those subsidies expired in 2022.

Gauthier passed a city ordinance that banned demolition in that area. IBID, in turn, sued. In a court settlement, the company agreed to give the city a fifth of the land, which the city would use to create 70 units of affordable housing.

Philadelphia Housing Authority has signed on to do the work and is asking the city for financial help with the project.

"They've requested $14 million," said Gauthier. "The Kenney administration agreed to do a large portion of that... none of that money, not even what the Kenney administration committed to, is in the budget requested funds to do the project."

Mayor Parker has a goal of creating 30,000 affordable housing units during her term. Platt says the city is figuring out how the University City Townhomes site works into that plan.

"There's nobody who can look at the work we're doing especially around housing and say this isn't an administration that's focused on affordable housing. We really and truly are," he said.

Platt says he's had discussions with Gauthier. The issue will also be discussed among city council as they negotiate Mayor Parker's proposed budget.

"I'm hoping this isn't a hard decision," said Gauthier. "That this is an easy decision, given the mayor's platform."

Councilmembers have about a month to negotiate proposed changes to the budget.