City Council advances controversial affordable housing plan

Several other bills pushed through

Pat Loeb
June 06, 2018 - 8:59 pm

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — During the end-of-the-year rush, City Council's Finance Committee held nearly eight hours of hearings Wednesday on more than a dozen bills, during which it voted to advance a hotly debated affordable housing initiative.

The committee narrowly approved a bill placing a 1 percent tax on new construction to fund affordable housing, after hearing testimonies from administration officials, developers and labor leaders in opposition, as well as housing advocates and community activists in support. 

Commerce Director Harold Epps warned the measure is a growth killer "that sends messages to the present and potential business community that Philadelphia is not clear on where it is and where it wants to go."

"What message does it send that we keep delaying trying to get affordable housing for people?" countered Councilman Bill Greenlee, who joined the majority in sending the bill to the full council. 

Administration officials urged the committee to wait and do some more work on it, a suggestion sponsor Maria Quinones Sanchez rejected.

"I am not going to sit here and say I'm not going to do something new because the bureaucrats can't figure out how to implement and enforce," she said. "That's not what I got elected to do."

A measure that would ease tax payments for new businesses also advanced, despite opposition from the Department of Revenue. Another bill would require annual reconciliation reports on city accounts, introduced after the city lost track of $33 million.

The committee held other controversial bills, including one rescinding Board of Health regulations on cigarette sales.

Health advocates squared off against convenience store owners during a testy hearing on the measure. It would strip a rule prohibiting stores from passing on their permits to sell cigarettes, in an effort to reduce the number of cigarette outlets in the city — currently the highest in the nation — particularly in low-income areas. 

It's not clear what will happen to the bill.

The committee also held a proposal to eliminate part of the 10-year real estate tax abatement that goes to schools and a measure that would allow homeowners not to pay taxes while they appeal assessments.

Sponsor Helen Gym believes the impact would be less harmful than continuing to forfeit taxes through the abatement.