Election 2021

Should Philly mandate an annual cash infusion to the Housing Trust Fund? (Ballot question)

If this was in already in effect, an additional $25 million in taxpayer dollars would have gone to affordable housing this year.

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Philadelphia’s Housing Trust Fund was established in 2005, thanks in part to a campaign led by the more than 90 advocacy groups which make up the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC). It’s one of more than 800 housing trust funds across the country which are designed to meet their constituents’ most urgent housing needs.

Whenever a mortgage or deed is recorded in Philadelphia, a portion of the fee goes into the Housing Trust Fund. Fees paid by developers for zoning bonuses are also funneled into the fund.

On top of those ongoing funding sources, Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council struck an agreement in 2018 which allotted $20 million per year, for five years, to the Housing Trust Fund — although that funding was not provided last year amid pandemic budget constraints.

In 2021, the Kenney administration outlined the priorities for Housing Trust Fund resources: the development of new affordable housing units and preservation of existing affordable housing; home repairs; assistance for first-time homeowners; and homeless prevention and special needs housing.

The Housing Trust Fund feeds into the city’s Basic Systems Repairs Program, which provides city residents with the financial support necessary to make electrical, plumbing, and roofing repairs to their homes. It’s a program that some tout as key to broader anti-violence work; according to a 2021 University of Pennsylvania study, some blocks that benefited from the Basic Systems Repairs Program saw a 21.9% reduction in violence.

Mortgage and deed fees contributed $8.5 million to the Housing Trust Fund’s overall $26.5 million budget for 2021, compared to about $18 million from the city’s General Fund appropriations.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for a mandatory annual appropriation for the Housing Trust Fund?

What it means

A “yes” vote means you think 0.5% of the city’s General Fund should be set aside each year for the Housing Trust Fund, beginning in fiscal year 2023.

The General Fund appropriations includes most of the money designated for general City operations, paid for mostly by taxes that have no other restrictions on how the money is spent. If this proposal had been in place this year, Council would have been required to set aside approximately $25 million for the housing programs, in addition to money required by other existing laws to be spent on such programs. This minimum amount would not be allowed to be used for any other purpose unless there was an emergency need to use it elsewhere.

The money would go towards building affordable housing, adapting affordable housing to make it accessible to people with disabilities, making repairs to existing homes, and increasing the amount of housing available for the more than 6,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city.

Advocates like Councilmember Derek Green, who originally proposed the bill, passed unanimously by City Council, say this will allow the city to truly focus on expanding access to affordable housing and address the city’s housing crisis.

Detractors, like Mayor Jim Kenney, believe that it’s better for the city to look for ways to increase and incentivize the amount that developers pay into the fund, and argue that the mandated funding would inhibit the city’s ability to manage its general funds.

There is an exception built into the legislation which stipulates that during a recession or any type of economic emergency, the city’s finance director could override the mandate and make the call on whether or not the funds would be repurposed.

What else is on the ballot

Click through for an explanation on each initiative you’ll vote on Nov. 2.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2021 stories.

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