Philadelphia’s Housing+ Program Offers a Lifeline in Housing Crisis

The housing market in Philadelphia is tough – maybe one of the toughest in the country. With rents sky high and a ten-year waitlist for federal housing vouchers, community organizations have stepped up to the plate and are offering stability that the government can’t. 

Philadelphia’s Housing Revolution

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The PHDC (Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation), a community development organization that helps Philly residents find affordable housing, offers housing repairs and outreach programs and is tackling the rental crisis head-on. 

PHDC’s Innovative Approach

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They’ve begun a pilot program called PHLHousing+ in which 300 people – randomly chosen from the city’s massive housing voucher waitlist – get thrown a much-needed lifeline. 

A Beacon of Hope for Renters in Need

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It’s a bit like a housing subsidy – renters pay 30% of their income towards housing and receive a debit card with enough money to cover the rent each month. 

How PHLHousing+ Is Making a Difference

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While the excess is meant for rent, participants have the freedom to spend it on anything they want, a mix of public money and philanthropy.

Beyond Housing Vouchers

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Data indicated that over half of renters in the U.S. are considered “cost-burdened,” which means they spend more than 30% of their income on rent/housing costs. 

Grassroots Solutions

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This is an epidemic across the U.S. that the Biden administration has yet to solve, so grassroots organizations have taken up the mantle.

PHDC’s Cash Assistance Program Breaks New Ground

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The idea of stimulus checks and universal basic income have become popular ever since the pandemic. These programs were widely popular and helped countless families find their feet and some housing stability.

Pandemic Pushback

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Philadelphia’s initiative predates the pandemic, with a previous version set to launch in early 2020 – although the pandemic set it back a few years. 

PHDC’s Fight Against Eviction and Instability

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Rachel Mulbry, a housing programs manager with the PHDC, explained that the majority of Philly renters face financial issues, with tens of thousands facing eviction annually.

These evictions disrupt employment and educational stability for families, exacerbating household stress.

Why Housing Assistance Falls Short

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Housing vouchers just don’t do enough to help families keep their heads above water, especially as the availability is so low. 

Voucher Limitations

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Nationally, 1 in 4 people who qualify actually end up receiving housing vouchers, and even then, many landlords refuse to accept them as they can’t be bothered to deal with the paperwork and inspections that the government requires.

Landlord Hurdles

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Madison Gray of The Public Interest Law Center notes that landlords may selectively accept vouchers, limiting tenants’ housing options.

Such practices can discourage tenants, who often think they have finally managed to improve their living conditions with access to a nice neighborhood through voucher assistance, only to face continued challenges as landlords refuse to accept them.

Rethinking Rental Support

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The PHDC enlisted the help of Vincent Reina at the University of Pennsylvania in order to come up with the means to help renters. 

Revisiting History

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He’s a planning and urban economist with experience in these sorts of issues. He came up with the idea for the scheme by looking into the past—at a 1970s experimental program that gave renters cash to help them find stable housing.

PHDC Draws Inspiration from 1970s Experiments

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Although these experiments were overshadowed by the creation of the voucher program in 1974, the current housing market’s challenges have highlighted the need for alternative approaches.

Facing Market Realities

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Today’s housing market faces low vacancy rates and a shortage of housing, exacerbating difficulties for voucher holders in securing accommodation. 

A New-Old Approach to Housing Stability

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While federal housing vouchers remain crucial for over 2 million people, direct cash assistance presents an additional option, particularly beneficial for renters with credit challenges.

As Reina says, “It could allow them … to maybe more easily lease a unit, even at the same rent level, in this other neighborhood, than they would have with a voucher.”

Federal Support for PHDC’s Innovative Approach

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The progress of the PHDC’s program is being eagerly watched. The U.S Housing and Urban Development Department has praised the initiative and is encouraging other cities to follow suit. 

Could Other Cities Follow Suit?

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If all goes well, the program could be adopted by other cities across the nation, offering stability and a roof over the heads for many struggling families.

A Promising Option for Housing Security

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Although federal housing vouchers offer benefits like landlord reassurance and mandatory inspections, direct cash assistance is a compatible option that can help even more people secure housing. 

Looking Ahead

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The specifics of how this alternative will evolve remain to be seen, but it represents a promising avenue for addressing housing challenges in Philadelphia and beyond.

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The content of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute or replace professional financial advice.