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.