Vacant buildings abound in Philadlphia.

PHILADELPHIA—While New Jersey municipalities have been adrift for years on affordable housing responsibilities, waiting as Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration fights tooth-and-nail with the courts on the issues, a Philadelphia council leader proposed this week that his city take action on its own to convert vacant buildings into affordable units.

City Council president Darrell L. Clarke announced a plan that would use tax incentives and bond proceeds  to renovate 1,500 vacant city-owned properties for affordable housing. He says that construction unions have already privately agreed to reduce rates if the project wins full council and mayoral approval.

Under the plan, the city would issue $100 million in bonds and access $200 million in available state and federal tax subsidies to support conversion of the vacant city properties.

Affordable rental and for-sale units would be made available to families earning 80-120% of the area’s median income, according to Clarke.

In Philadelphia, where 27% of residents live in poverty according to federal statistics, there is a continuously severe shortage of affordable rental units.

The plan calls for creating 1,000 rental units and 500 for-sale residences. Certainly, the city has no shortage of vacant property; It owns am estimated 9,000 empty buildings.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he will await further details before throwing his weight behind the program, but Clarke said he believes Nutter will support it.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, a five-year saga of inactivity on affordable housing continued this week, although the state Supreme Court did assign the Christie adminstration a new deadline of May 1 for coming up with a draft of new regulations for municipalities and a proposed new funding mechanism for affordable housing by May 1. Since he was first elected in 2010, Christie has tried to abolish the state Council on Affordable Housing, been rebuffed by the state Supreme Court and the COAH board has ceased meeting.