At City Council’s hearings on the capital budget two perennial issues dominated the debate: parking and affordable housing.
The subject of the day included funding for the nascent Department of Planning and Development, which encompasses the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the Historical Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the city’s housing agencies.
Council President Darrell Clarke opened questioning of Anne Fadullon, director of planning and development, by once again describing his displeasure with the lower parking requirements included in the reformed zoning code of 2012.
“I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now,” said Clarke, referring to reduced parking minimums. “The notion that all the new people moving in don’t have cars is a fallacy... Are we going to have a serious conversation about this or just keep telling people to get on the bus?”
In recent weeks, there have been explosive public meetings about development in Manayunk and North Philadelphia around Temple that centered on issues about parking. Clarke said that he is seeing four or five story buildings containing multiple units going up in neighborhoods across the city, with inappropriate amounts of parking provided. He scoffed at the idea that the city’s public transit system would be considered a welcome alternative to many residents.
Fadullon told Clarke that her office sought a grant to conduct a parking study, but their application proved unsuccessful. If further grant funding proved equally unattainable, her office would try to figure out resources in-house.
“That’s telling me it’s not a priority if they aren’t going to give you money,” said Clarke.
Last year, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill to require substantially more parking for new development but it stalled amid harsh criticism. Nonetheless, said her office would work on the issue with Blackwell and other concerned council people, like Kenyatta Johnson.
“We realize it’s a serious issue…it’s definitely something we may need to revise,” said Fadullon. She noted that the zoning omnibus bill, which the Planning Commission supports, sought to address developers who have been taking advantage of industrial zoning in residential areas to build multi-family housing and little parking. .
Clarke said that he hoped bringing the Zoning Board of Adjustment into the new Department of Planning and Development would mean that fewer variances would be issued for multi-family housing in areas zoned single family.
“You [the Planning Commission] recommend residential community, single family homes, but they [developers] go to the Zoning Board and they give them permission to do something totally different,” said Clarke.
Fadullon said her department has been in touch with the ZBA on the issue, but that the agency is independent.
“But yes, we believe it will be helpful that they will be under our purview,” she said.
Several other councilmembers echoed Clarke’s concerns about parking, specifically Councilman William Greenlee—who often sides with the council president—and Blackwell, whose district in West Philadelphia includes the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel.
“We keep losing places people can park,” said Blackwell, who denounced bike lanes and electric vehicle charging stations—which council voted to limit last week-- as forces that threatened parking.
Numerous councilmembers also expressed concerns about affordable housing, saying that it’s one of the chief issues they hear about from constituents.
Fadullon said that affordable housing is a “moral right” while warning of probable cuts to programs like the Community Development Block Grant, which is zeroed out in President Trump’s budget proposal. But she also noted that the federal government’s retreat from affordable housing and community development isn’t a recent phenomenon.
In 2003, Fadullon testified, Philadelphia received $89 million in various federal funds. If funding had remained constant, and been adjusted for inflation, the city should have received $120 million this year. Instead only $47 million came through.
Because help won’t be coming from D.C., Fadullon said she is considering how other cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco have handled their growing pains. But she then acknowledged that Philadelphia doesn’t have the same challenges as these hot market cities.
“In a lot of other cities one of the reasons they feel like they have an affordable housing issue is because they don’t allow a lot of multifamily zoning,” said Fadullon. “We don’t have that issue, we have a multifold issue that’s in some ways is kind of unique to Philadelphia but similar to sister cities like Cleveland and Baltimore.”
Fadullon suggested that the city’s old, existing rowhouses can be quite good, affordable housing, but that the city’s sky-high poverty rates combined with extensive repair needs for older buildings were a very bad match. Currently the Basic System Repair Program attempts to help keep Philadelphians in their old homes. She said that the increase in the real estate transfer tax would clear up that program’s large backlog in the next three years and that 7,400 homes would be repaired in that time. (The program gets almost $11 million from the imperiled CDBG program.)
Fadullon noted several other initiatives her department will be championing in the coming months, including studying policies to address the eviction crisis and a new Request for Proposal next week that will incentivize affordable housing development in “high opportunity areas.”
Fadullon also testified that work on the Norris Apartments in North Philadelphia, where development of a new affordable housing complex has stalled, would be breaking ground soon. She said the city agencies and the Philadelphia Housing Authority are on the same page now and working together better than ever, thanks in part to their collaboration in complying with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation last year.
“This is one of the first times in memory that the housing authority and city housing agencies have worked this closely,” said Fadullon.