Report addresses strategies for preserving affordable housing

Philadelphia has a severe shortage of affordable housing.  “Danger of the Opt Out,” a new report developed by Fall 2016 Justice Lab students for Community Legal Services, shows that the City is at risk of losing even more affordable units as landlords opt out of participation in the Section 8 program.

The report notes that the loss of housing has a distinct racial impact, since 63% of African-Americans live in project-based housing compared with 44% of the city’s population, and that African-Americans are disproportionately likely to carry severe housing cost burdens. According to the report:

  • Over 9,000 units of affordable housing may be lost in the next 20 years across 86 Section 8 project based properties.
  • Eighteen of those properties are in gentrifying census tracts, which are at greater risk of opt-out due to changing neighborhood demographics. Of the 21 properties with Section 8 contracts expiring by 2020, six are located in a gentrifying tract.
  • A majority of affordable units are at higher risk of opt-out due to the owner’s for-profit status, since a profit-motivated owner is more likely to opt-out when they are able to obtain higher rents on the private market.

​Following release of the report, Community Legal Services attorney Rasheedah Phillips echoed its call for changes in the way PHA does business. Recommendations include stronger requirements for advance notice to tenants when their home is to be removed from the Section 8 program, and the development of an open database of all Section 8 properties and the dates on which their contracts with the program are set to expire.

Philadelphia Weekly covered the report, noting that it “offered a stark reminder of the extent of Philadelphia’s housing crisis.” The report has also been cited in a Harvard Law School blog, as well as by Voices for Civil Justice and other national organizations.

Continued questions about Philly’s “Rental Assistance Demonstration Program”

Last summer, students in the Center’s Justice Lab Clinic released their Philadelphia Rental Assistance Demonstration Program Advocacy Guide.  The “RAD” program, an initiative of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, allows municipalities to invite investors to support “conversions” of housing units from public to private ownership. But according to Justice Lab, which studied the program in collaboration with Community Legal Services, inadequate steps have been taken to protect low-income tenants as conversions go forward.

As a follow-up, Fall 2016 Advanced Clinic student Martha Guarnieri analyzed new RAD conversion data and discovered that the Philadelphia Housing Authority is not disclosing how much housing RAD is creating or which private developers have contracts in Philadelphia.  This information was used in testimony offered by CLS to the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Philadelphia Division of Housing and Community Development concerning the City’s draft “Assessment of Fair Housing.”  Justice Lab and CLS urged PHA to revise its Assessment to include more transparency and data about the RAD program and its potential impact on the City’s already-insufficient low-income housing supply.

Center files brief on traumatizing effects of long-term detention on children

The Center’s Social Justice Lawyering Clinic, together with the Villanova Farmworker Clinic, has filed an amicus brief in support of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to revoke the license of the Berks County Family Detention Center.  That decision has been appealed by Berks County, which the federal government pays to confine immigrant families at the Center. For more information about the Center, see our publications page.

Our brief was filed on behalf of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, plus a number of physicians, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. Many of these individuals have visited the facility and and found that it poses a severe and unjustified risk to children’s health, mental health, safety and well-being. The brief documents abuses at the Center and argues that its operation violates Pennsylvania law. In a similar case, a Texas court recently found that family detention facilities there violated the state’s human services law.

Human Rights First and the Shut Down Berks Coalition also provided crucial assistance for the Center’s brief.

Center to co-sponsor teach-in on immigrants’ rights

The Sheller Center is co-sponsoring a state-wide teach-in on immigrants’ rights in the wake of the election, to be held on Thursday, January 12 from 4:30 to 7:30 pm. The event will take place at Penn State and at the University of Pennsylvania Law School (Room T-145), with speakers and audiences in both locations and live-streaming between sites.  Topics will include Immigration Law 101; “Muslim” Registry; Policy Setting at the State and Local Level; “Sanctuary” from a Faith Perspective; and Immigration Enforcement. Participating law schools include Penn State, Penn, Temple, Drexel and Villanova. More information is available here.