After months of discussion, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has agreed to extend Philadelphia Housing Authority's Moving to Work (MTW) agreement for another 10 years. Without the extension of the program, which allows for management and funding flexibility, PHA could have lost tens of millions of dollars needed to continue its housing redevelopment program and to provide critical programs and services to the city's residents.
"The signing of this agreement is critically important to our housing production program," says PHA executive director Carl Greene. "We already have two projects set for next year?Mantua and Warnock Street?but more importantly, it enables us to replace all of our outdated projects over the next 10 years, knowing that we will enjoy the flexibility of the Moving to Work program."
A final agreement on the deal had been delayed for months because of a dispute between PHA and HUD where the federal agency alleged that PHA did not provide adequate accessible housing. Though PHA still maintains it met the fair housing requirements necessary to participate in the MTW program, the two parties signed an agreement on October 16 stating that the housing authority will certify 760 fully accessible housing units by 2013, including 152 by the end of this year. The agreement, which sets aside 5 percent of PHA's housing stock for people with disabilities, allows PHA to stay within the MTW program.
After the agreement was reached, PHA decided to drop its federal court case against HUD, which claimed the accessible housing accusation was a form of retaliation against the authority because it refused to turn land over at a nominal cost to a personal friend of former HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. For MFE's original coverage of the scandal, click here.
Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) played a critical role in helping the two agencies reach an agreement. The senators urged HUD Secretary Steve Preston, who officially replaced Jackson in June, to help settle the dispute for the sake of Philadelphia's 84,000 public housing residents. "When Mr. Preston was confirmed, it became one of his top priorities," says Jereon Brown, HUD's deputy assistant secretary for the office of public affairs. "He asked that everyone remove the personalities from the table and focus on the 5 percent accessibility issue and the best way to get there. For Philadelphia families needing affordable and accessible housing, the resolution is a big win."
Specifically, the MTW program allows PHA to use funds from the Housing Choice Voucher program for other purposes, such as building new affordable housing; providing training for low-income residents; and investing in technology and other innovative programs that have allowed the authority to reduce its workforce from 2,500 in 2000 to 1,130 today while still serving more families.
Former HUD Assistant Secretary Orlando Cabrera, who resigned in January, sees the new agreement as a definite positive. "I hope PHA continues to use their MTW status well, and I'm glad that they are keeping their commitment to comply with fair housing laws."