Would Minneapolis' idea address the housing challenges Philadelphia faces?
Philadelphia’s biggest housing challenge is preserving the affordable housing stock we have. The recently released Housing Action Plan addresses this through a number of strategies, not simply zoning.
Philadelphia has plenty of vacant land on which housing could be built. In many cases what makes it difficult to create affordable housing is a lack of resources and costly regulations, not the underlying zoning.
That said, Philadelphia can — and does — use strategic zoning to promote affordability and equity.
Both the Housing Action Plan and the City’s Comprehensive Plan call for higher density in strong housing markets, on and near commercial corridors, and around transit locations. Council members have introduced legislation to promote this density.
Another way is to engage the private market around density. The Planning Commission recently convinced a developer to commit to make 10 percent of the units in an upcoming development affordable. By including these units in a new multifamily development, new density will help add affordability to an appreciating neighborhood.
Neighborhood groups often see downzoning multifamily properties as a way to preserve neighborhood character. But there are other zoning tools, such as the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay, to achieve that goal. Using these other tools while maintaining multifamily zoning is a way to preserve Philadelphia’s neighborhood feel while promoting more affordable housing options.
Through upzoning, engagement with developers, and a commitment to equity, Philadelphia is working to make its zoning advance its goals.
Diana Lind, author of the forthcoming book “Brave New Home: The Smarter, Cheaper, Happier Future of Housing”
I applaud Minneapolis for enacting outside-the-box reform to preserve their residents’ right to live affordably near good jobs, transit, and schools. Philadelphia is different, and one size does not fit all, but we should look beyond our cities’ differences in base zoning, lot sizes, and housing stock to embrace the neighborhood-driven roots of Minneapolis' action.
Crucially, [a greater share of] lots in Minneapolis are restricted to single-family zoning, while Philadelphia has a more diverse planning code in accordance with our city’s historic urban development patterns, including diverse housing stock along neighborhood commercial corridors with green space and manufacturing. As policymakers, we must expand tax and maintenance relief to aging rowhome neighborhoods that define our city.
Despite stagnant wages and tightening banks, our minority communities still boast a 49 percent homeownership rate, among the highest of America’s largest cities. We need a toolbox of mixed-income, transit-oriented, and inclusionary strategies to keep families in quality, affordable homes across a city that suffers from a consistent 39 percent minority poverty rate and 26 percent city-wide poverty rate.
Last year, I renewed our affordable housing debate, urging colleagues to adopt bold inclusionary zoning reform to prevent our ‘City of Neighborhoods’ from becoming ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ In 2018, City Council expanded mixed income zoning bonuses, incentivized transit-oriented development along the El, piloted loans for home repair and vacant property renovation, and doubled appropriations to the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund.
Block-by-block, we must maintain diverse homeownership and leverage markets for naturally occurring multi-family occupancy and pinpoint corridors for accessible, transit-oriented, and mixed-income development.
John Ricco, volunteer with Philly YIMBY, a project of the political action committee 5th Square
Anyone who’s walked through one of Philadelphia’s gentrifying neighborhoods has seen it: the 2,000-square-foot urban McMansion, complete with a roof deck, garage, and half-million-dollar price tag. We’re left wondering: Is this really the best use of our city’s space?
Our zoning code seems to think so. Nearly half of Philadelphia’s land (excluding parks) is set aside exclusively for single-family homes, mandating that certain areas of our city are off-limits to any person or family who can’t afford this type of house.
It’s as if we’ve banned the production of Honda Civics, then turned around and asked why all the new cars are Bentleys, wondering why no one makes cars for normal people anymore.
Philadelphia should follow Minneapolis' example and remap its single-family zones to allow — not require — small multifamily developments. The existing RM-1 zoning category is the perfect tool for the job.
Picture a small apartment building that stands as tall as neighboring rowhouses, or a brownstone that’s been converted into a handful of units — that’s RM-1 in action. Redesignating single family zones as RM-1 would be socially transformative without requiring radical changes to the city.
This would offer something for everyone. For those priced out of high-opportunity neighborhoods, cheaper and more plentiful housing. For those who don’t need an entire rowhouse, diverse options. For urbanists, more density in walkable, transit-rich areas. For anti-gentrification activists, a slowing of the process where priced-out yuppies move into the cheaper neighborhood nearby. And for residents concerned with neighborhood character, gentle, contextual growth.
Jon Geeting, engagement director at the political organization Philadelphia 3.0:
Ending apartment bans in Philadelphia would encourage housing affordability, race and class integration, and a stronger customer base for public transit and neighborhood commercial corridors. But there’s an even more practical reason for doing so: City Council just made multifamily zoning the sole workhorse of its new affordable housing funding package.
Earlier this fall, City Council passed the package aimed at addressing the city’s deficit of below-market-rate housing. The legislation allows developers to add density and height to offset the cost of providing affordable units within their buildings. Alternatively, developers can pay into the city’s Housing Trust Fund instead of providing units on site.
City Council’s legislation, however, is available only to developers who build in areas zoned as multifamily, which represents less than a quarter of Philadelphia land. That means that most of the city’s land won’t be contributing to the Housing Trust Fund and will not see new affordable housing units constructed under the program.
As a result, there’s a strong case for minimizing or eliminating single-family zoning, as Minneapolis did, in favor of similar, zoning categories such as RM-1, which allows rowhouse-sized apartment buildings.
If Mayor Kenney and City Council want to raise more revenue for their signature affordable housing initiative, and allow more affordable housing in areas in the path of gentrification, the best way to do that is to minimize or even eliminate single-family zoning, and make 100 percent of Philadelphia eligible for Council’s new program.
Posted: December 20, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Author: Caitlin McCabe, posted on Philly.com
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