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Housing in Brief: Will Philly be the Second Big City to Pass Right-to-Counsel? (PA)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Housing in Brief: Will Philly be the Second Big City to Pass Right-to-Counsel?

"Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym has introduced a bill that would guarantee representation in housing court for households under 200 percent of the federal poverty line, PlanPhilly reports. Gym has previously made strides toward leveling the playing field for landlords and tenants: securing $500,000 for renter assistance two years ago, for example. PlanPhilly says that most of the funding Gym has secured funds non-lawyer tenant assistance, such as a help hotline and a staffed desk at housing court. The Philadelphia Bar Association estimated it will cost at least $3.5 million to provide legal aid to all low-income tenants, but would save the city at least $45.2 million in costs related to homelessness and displacement.

Gym is asking for $1.5 million in this year’s budget, to slowly ramp up the program. If passed, Philly will be the second large city to offer right-to-counsel for low-income tenants. New York City launched such a program for tenants in 20 zip codes, and by 2022, the program will be citywide. Advocates say that the program needs reform, however, describing chaotic scenes at housing court and saying that many tenants don’t learn they have a right to an attorney before the day they arrive in court.

Austin “Unlocks” Affordable Housing

Austin City Council has unanimously approved the Affordability Unlocked program, which provides density bonuses for developers of affordable housing, the Austin Monitor reports. The program allows developers to build higher and on smaller lots if at least 50 percent of the units are affordable to 60 percent median family income (for rental units) or 80 percent median family income (for for-sale units).

Units must remain affordable for at least 40 years.

As Next City has reported previously, mandatory inclusionary zoning is illegal in Texas, so Austin and other cities have had to think creatively about ways to incentivize the creation of affordable housing..."

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