Local organization gains city council support for new legislation to control vacant public land

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Affordable housing has been a major concern in Philadelphia for more than a decade.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), which is the largest landlord in the city, serves over 80,000 people to provide affordable housing for low-income residents.

However, PHA has a waiting list of over 40,000 people, which hasn't accepted any new applications within the last seven years.

Among the 43,000 vacant lots in the city, some have highlighted how transferring 5,000 of those publicly owned spaces to community control is vital to addressing this problem.

"We're really excited to begin this land justice campaign. Which is to put out information and be real clear about what the city can do about it," said Nora Lichtash, who is a member of The Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities.

Lichtash has called on city council to pass legislation that supports these efforts, as she states statistically, is quite alarming.

"One out of every two renters in our city is housing cost burden. Meaning after they pay their rent, they don't have enough left over to pay for other basics," she said.

Lichtash says that almost one out of every three African-American households have been displaced out of their neighborhoods due to gentrification in North, South, and West Philadelphia, according to U.S Census data.

"Housing prices are going up, food prices are going up, and that was before COVID. So since the pandemic, it's even worse," added Lichtash.

While Philadelphia owns roughly 6,000 parcels of land and 5,000 are surplus, Lichtash believes the city has a responsibility to use that land to address this affordability crisis.

Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) is currently one of the five council staff members who support this mission.

"There's a lot of demand for this land and property," said Gauthier. "What we see is for-profit developers that are trying to construct housing, mostly market-rate housing, and community members who want to put that land to use for the community and for the benefit of the community, are competing against those development interests."

Gauthier says that the 'Put Vacant Land in Community Hands' initiative is an important step when addressing sustainable solutions for all.

"What we're trying to do with this initiative is to give grassroots community organizations that want to develop affordable housing, that want to develop green spaces for our community, more leverage and more of a chance to compete in this market," said Gauthier.
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