Penn Study: One in Four Philadelphia Households Faces Extreme Difficulty Finding Affordable Housing

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Media Contact:Jessica Reitano | | 215-898-4820April 2, 2003
PHILADELPHIA -- Fully one-quarter of households in Philadelphia are fighting a losing battle in their quest to find affordable housing.

"Everyone thinks Philadelphia is an affordable city," said University of Pennsylvania researcher Amy Hillier, "but for households making less than $20,000 annually it is actually less affordable than many other cities. The housing crisis is a national problem, but it seems to be even more serious in Philadelphia."

Hillier and Dennis Culhane of Penn's School of Social Work found that 200,000 households in the city earn less than $20,000 per year and most of them pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The Philadelphia housing crisis results from decreasing incomes for low-income households and increasing housing costs. Most low-income households depend on wages -- not welfare -- for their income, she said, and the real value of the minimum wage has decreased by 30 percent in the last 35 years.

Also, Pennsylvania has suffered greater cuts in welfare benefits than most other states. A Pennsylvania family on welfare receiving $421 today would have received $686 in 1970, adjusting for inflation, Hillier said.
Hillier and Culhane also attribute this growing problem to the loss of manufacturing jobs in Philadelphia during the past 15 years.

"This research report proves what we have believed and experienced for
years: that Philadelphia has a crisis in housing affordability," said Nora Lichtash, co-chair of the Philadelphia Affordable Housing Coalition, which funded the study. "We plan to use this study as a wake-up call for better housing policy in Philadelphia."

Other findings of the Penn study:

  • Only one-third of Philadelphia's low-income households live in subsidized housing, leaving the other two-thirds to live with friends or relatives, to settle for unsafe housing or to take their chances in the shelter system.
  • 30,000 fewer affordable housing units in Philadelphia exist than are needed for low-income families.
  • Affordable-housing units accessible to those with disabilities are even harder to find. Philadelphia has an estimated 151,250 people with physical disabilities.

Specific recommendations resulting from the study include increasing family incomes by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit program and increasing the minimum wage, increasing the number of housing vouchers, and spending more of the city's Community Development Block Grant on the Neighborhood Based Rental Housing Program.

The report was researched and written by the staff of the Cartographic Modeling Laboratory at Penn.

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NOTE: Copies of the report can be downloaded from