Grassroots community organizing groups fight for housing justice in their neighborhoods and across the country  

The economic fallout from the pandemic and drastic cost-of-living increases are exacerbating Philadelphia’s longstanding housing crisis. A recent Pew Charitable Trusts study found that 54% of Philadelphia renters and 28% of homeowners spend at least 30% of their income on housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the Philadelphia region has only “29 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely poor households”—well below the national average.   

“26% of Philadelphia households earn less than $15,000 a year,” says Nora Lichtash, executive director of Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP), a Neighborhood Equitable Recovery Fund grantee. “Those folks can’t afford housing.”  

Bread & Roses grantees are fighting for housing justice by demanding policy reform, pushing back against gentrification, and filing federal lawsuits on behalf of unhoused people.   

Last fall, WCRP and other members of the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities won a major victory: They helped pass a bill mandating that the city put .5% of its general fund budget (roughly $26 million) into the Housing Trust Fund to create and preserve affordable housing. In November, Philadelphians voted to change the city charter to include the annual allocation.   

Now, WCRP and other housing allies are fighting for access to vacant city-owned land to build more affordable housing. Currently, developers can get public land for a nominal fee if half the units are considered affordable. But the units aren’t affordable, and they often revert to market-rate prices after a 15-year compliance period, Lichtash says. A proposed bill in City Council would prioritize city-owned land for community land trusts to create permanent affordable housing. “The legislation would level the playing field and give communities control of land,” Lichtash says.   

Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT), a Future Fund grantee, is mobilizing neighbors to stop predatory homebuying, which uses high-pressure tactics to convince vulnerable homeowners to sell below market value for cash. Working with Community Legal Services, GREAT created a Stop Predatory Homebuying toolkit and held community meetings to educate neighbors. GREAT is hosting Learning Circles “to understand how the community can have a stronger voice in the development process so we can prevent displacement and gentrification,” says Lindsay Stolkey, a founder of GREAT.   

The Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), an Equitable Public Space Fund grantee, is working for housing justice at the national level. In July 2021, PPEHRC filed a federal lawsuit against the department of Housing and Urban Development to hold the Biden administration accountable for the lack of affordable housing in Philadelphia and throughout the country. A Federal judge recently dismissed the case but gave PPEHRC a road map for how to re-enter the lawsuit, says Cheri Honkala, PPEHRC’s director.   

PPEHRC plans to file a new lawsuit this fall that would make cities legally responsible to house unhoused people. “We are taking a national approach to force every city to deal with the crisis,” Honkala says. “Instead of treating homelessness as a crime, not housing people would be a crime.”     

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