The Philadelphia Tribune: Democrats urge passage of federal pandemic aid bills for affordable housing, rental assistance and more

Democratic officials and community stakeholders from throughout Philadelphia on Friday called on the U.S. Senate to take up a package of pandemic relief legislation that includes billions to address the affordable housing in the city and nation.

But with fewer than 40 days before the November election, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is not expected to vote on the legislation.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, said Philadelphians desperately needed more federal funding for affordable housing, rent relief, and other housing-related issues — all crises that the novel coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated.

Evans, who is up for election in November, urged the U.S. Senate to vote on a $3 trillion measure and other legislation — which the U.S. House of Representatives passed earlier this year — that would provide $100 billion for emergency rental assistance, $100 billion to improve affordable housing infrastructure, and establish a tax credit program for the construction of affordable housing in distressed neighborhoods, among a raft of other things.

“It is a question of political will,” Evans said during a news conference held via video conference.

Evans did not respond to a question about how much funding Philadelphia could receive as part of the package. There were no Republicans participating in the video conference.

In the poorest big city in the United States, 40% of Philadelphians were considered “cost-burdened” in 2018, meaning they spent at least 30% of their income on housing costs, according to a report from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Philadelphia also had the highest proportion of cost-burdened low-income households among the 10 largest cities in the U.S. that year, according to the report. And 68% of Philadelphia renters who made less than $30,000 per year were classified as “severely cost-burdened,” i.e. they spent at least half of their income on housing costs.

Philadelphia’s overall poverty rate was now 23.3%, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the package of bills would help Philadelphia respond to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and drive a more equitable recovery in the city.

“ … the stress and fear and … discontent that we see is real and it’s palpable and we have to deal with it,” Kenney said.

Sister Mary Scullion, president and executive director of Project HOME, said for every $1 the government invests in affordable housing, the economic return is $15.

“Not only does it [investing in affordable housing] strengthen families and communities, it is a powerful economic engine that creates jobs,” Scullion said.

The package of federal legislation aims to offer another round of funding in addition to the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, that was passed along with other relief bills earlier this year.

The Democratic-led U.S. House passed its $3 trillion aid package in May followed by further legislation to respond to the pandemic. But negotiations with the U.S. Senate and the Trump Administration have not progressed, with Republicans rejecting the proposals.

Evans sidestepped a question about whether he believed the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate would consider the package of bills before the Nov. 3 election, saying that the pandemic, economic recession and election would help “influence” legislators.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said the federal aid was critical and that officials must continue to push for the legislation regardless of whether it was likely to pass in the current Congress.

“We should keep pushing, keep bringing it up,” Clarke said.