Philly housing program pairs first-time buyers with 1,000 affordable homes

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke and other members of City Council announce that city-owned vacant lots at the corner of 55th and Poplar streets will be home to 41 affordable housing units as part of the city's Turn The Key program to promote home ownership. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke and other members of City Council announce that city-owned vacant lots at the corner of 55th and Poplar streets will be home to 41 affordable housing units as part of the city's Turn The Key program to promote home ownership. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As part of a broader neighborhood improvement initiative, Philadelphia has launched a housing program that will see private developers build at least 1,000 affordable homes on public land on a rolling basis.

Through a partnership with the Kenney administration, the “Turn the Key” program will give eligible first-time buyers the opportunity to purchase homes across the city for between $190,000 and $230,000 — far less than the current median home price in the city.

Construction on some of the first homes, most of which will have three bedrooms, is expected to start in the coming months.

“This is a good day,” said City Council President Darrelll Clarke during a news conference held by a large vacant lot in West Philadelphia on Thursday.

Forty-one affordable homes will be built on vacant lots at the corner of 55th and Poplar streets in West Philadelphia under the city’s Turn the Key program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
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The public lots go out to bid as the city continues to struggle with an affordable housing crisis and contend with a tight housing market that has kept home prices high. This as household incomes here have failed to keep pace, putting homeownership out of reach for more and more working residents, including municipal employees.

Under the new program, income-qualified city workers are slated to have competitive advantage when homes hit the market. A bill to that end is expected to pass City Council as early as next month.

“I know guys that have been working for the city as foremans, still having to rent rooms because they can’t afford affordable housing,” said Ernest Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 33, the city’s blue collar union. “I can’t wait to put that message out there so people can get things together to try to qualify for this program.”

Ernest Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 33 which represents Philadelphia city workers, applauds City Council’s Turn the Key affordable housing program, which will give preference to qualifying city employees. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

To qualify for the program, applicants must earn no more than 80% of the area median income (AMI), which translates to $94,500 for a family of four. And subsidies available through the program will make it possible for a family earning as low as 60% of AMI to purchase one of these homes.

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Participating developers, who will be incentivized in the form of nominally-priced land, will ultimately decide which applicants will become first-time home buyers. That includes the 40-plus homes that will be built on a large grassy lot on the 600 block of North 55th Street in the Carroll Park section of West Philadelphia.

The group of Council members who gathered there for Thursday’s press conference all hailed the new program as significant and impactful.

“If you wanna see a man or a woman walk with their head up and their shoulders back, give them the opportunity to own something that will allow them to build generational wealth that they can pass onto their families,” said Councilmember Cherelle Parker.

The initial budget for the “Turn is the Key ” program is expected to be between $7 and $8 million. The money will come from the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, the massive bond-backed program initiated by Clarke to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing, revive commercial corridors, and improve neighborhood infrastructure, among other priorities.

A second phase of the program is planned, but not finalized.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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