In 2018, there are as many varieties of affordable-housing crises as there are cities in America. While cities like San Francisco are facing a shortage of units at all income levels, driving the cost of housing to previously unthinkable heights, cities like Philadelphia are facing a different problem. Namely, while 14 percent of homes in the city are vacant, around 125,000 renters and homeowners are severely cost-burdened—paying more than half their income toward the rent or mortgage.
To develop those figures, as part of its first-ever comprehensive housing strategy, the City contracted with a team of researchers that includes Vincent Reina, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at PennDesign. Working with Claudia Aiken, a research associate at PennPraxis (the consulting and community engagement arm of PennDesign), Reina was tasked with completing much of the research and analysis for the report. Reina and Aiken also helped synthesize the work of seven committees—each focused on a specific topic, from eviction to homelessness to construction costs—and identify gaps and overlaps in the committees’ findings.
“We were never the arbiter of what the final recommendations were going to be,” Reina says. “We were very much the people who helped frame it, do analysis, offer insight, and sometimes offer recommendations on their recommendations.”
To come up with suggested goals for housing production and preservation, the team had to consider a variety of factors. Philadelphia’s recent growth, the quality of its housing stock, the depth of its poverty and the cost of construction were chief among those considerations, Reina says. The team, reporting to Anne Fadullon (MCP’88), the director of the Planning and Development Department for the City of Philadelphia and the City’s Housing Advisory Board, sought to make balanced, realistic projections and recommendations for creating new housing and, importantly, preserving much of the naturally according affordable housing that already exists across the city but may be in deep disrepair. A draft of the plan was made public last month, with the final report expected later this month.
“This is a housing plan that’s meant to address the city broadly,” Reina says. “As Anne has said, it’s not an affordable housing plan. It’s not a market-rate housing plan. It’s a housing plan.”
Meanwhile, Reina is carrying out a blizzard of other research projects.
In June, he received a University Research Foundation grant to study the impact and effectiveness of the Los Angeles Housing Choice Voucher program, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Southern California. He’s a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, studying residents’ perceptions of changing neighborhoods. He has two studies coming out looking at changes to HUD’s housing voucher rent limits, and one that was just published on barriers that households face when using a voucher. With Akira Drake Rodriguez, a post-doctoral fellow also in the Department of City and Regional Planning at PennDesign, he’s studying three planning processes in Philadelphia in the framework of Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation.” He’s co-editing an issue of HUD’s journal Cityscape with Susan Wachter, Albert Sussman Professor of Real Estate at the Wharton School and co-director of PennIUR. And, for good measure, he’s co-editing a book, Perspectives on Fair Housing, combining work from sociological, legal, historical, and economic perspective on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.
“The goal of that book is to really show how, even if you isolate to individual perspectives, you can see the importance of fair housing,” Reina says. “The case for fair housing and its importance and value is quite profound.”