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The average price of a home in University City has skyrocketed in recent years, causing the displacement of many former residents.

Credit: Samantha Delman

A recent group of proposals in the Pennsylvania Senate, collectively dubbed the “New Deal for Housing,” will attempt to expand affordable housing and fight against gentrification efforts in Philadelphia — which can be fueled by Penn and students who live off-campus.

If passed into law, the legislation would increase access to housing and homeownership for “domestic violence survivors, homeless veterans, people living in houses with toxic conditions, victims of housing discrimination and individuals and families seeking affordable housing options," according to the proposals' memorandum. According to a study conducted between 2000 and 2014, the University City district has lost over 882 low-cost rental units.

The average price of a home in University City has skyrocketed in recent years, increasing from $78,500 in 1995 to $500,000 in 2018. This has caused the displacement of many former residents, with the area’s Black population declining by more than half, according to WHYY. 

State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) introduced the proposal, outlining the four components of his plan in late January. He confirmed in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that he hopes to introduce a bill sometime in the near future. 

Vincent Reina, a professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning, believes that investment in affordable housing in Philadelphia is vital given the aging and decrepit condition of properties currently available. Reina believes that the recent attention paid to affordable housing comes as a result of the situation reaching a breaking point for many people in the city.

“I think people have become increasingly aware of the importance of housing, and in many ways this is reflective of the fact that we haven't done something for a while,” Reina said. “So it’s like we got to crisis point, and it’s usually at that crisis point where everyone says ‘Oh, we need to act.’”

Reina also said Penn students living off-campus have contributed indirectly to decreasing housing affordability in West Philadelphia and the city generally. He explained that the willingness many students have to pay more for housing and the increase in demand they contribute has driven up rent, forcing many lower-income individuals to struggle.

Hughes, a graduate of Temple University, believes that housing is a crucial issue in Philadelphia, especially given the city’s abnormally high poverty rate. Philadelphia is often named the poorest of the nation's major cities, according to WHYY

“Everyone needs a place to live and housing is generally the largest expense individuals and families carry,” said Hughes. “Having access to safe, affordable housing is critical and it is our job as legislators to make that attainable.”

This effort comes on the heels of the Good Cause eviction law, which was signed into law in April 2019 and prevents Philadelphia landlords from evicting tenants without presenting a reason for doing so. However, Philadelphia Tenants Union volunteer Nicholas Krapf believes that much stronger legislation is needed.

Though he believes that there’s still much to be done to improve Philadelphia’s housing system, Krapf expressed hope that the public is becoming more accepting of the importance of affordable housing in the city. 

“Having a place to live and rest, I think, on an emotional level, and having a place to do work and raise a family — if you don’t have a place to go where you feel safe, it affects other parts of your life,” said Krapf.