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November 09, 2017

City officials target Philadelphia's housing crisis with Knight Foundation grant

Government Housing
Stock_Carroll - Houses in East Falls Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Houses in East Falls, Tues. Oct. 17, 2017.

Two of Philadelphia's departments could be easier to navigate soon.

The Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Revenue are the first departments selected to participate in the PHL Participatory Design Lab, a concept born from a $338,000 Knight Foundation Cities Challenge grant with the hope of enabling Philadelphians to help design better city services.

The 18-month initiative includes a roaming, participatory city design lab that goes to different neighborhoods to garner ideas.

“Residents should be a part of creating the type of cities where they want to live and [shape] the issues they care about,” Patrick Morgan, the Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia, said in a statement.

“The Lab will drive resident involvement in improving some of the city’s most crucial services and create lessons in civic engagement for Philadelphia and cities across the nation.”

For the Office of Homeless Services, the goal is for Design Lab to make the public’s experience better when dealing with the department’s intake system.

“The intake centers are ground zero for people in a housing crisis,” Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services, said in a statement.

“We’re working hard to deliver dignified, person-centered and trauma-informed experiences for individuals who are facing homelessness and need our help. We’re excited to see what insights and improvements will be available to us.”

On the other end of the housing crisis, the Department of Revenue will look at its Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement system, which specifically caters to homeowners who have fallen behind on their real estate taxes and protects them from enforcement action.

“While there’s no easy fix for any of the challenges we face as a municipality, integrating social science and service design methods gives us the tools to be creative in how we tackle and improve complex service challenges,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

Two Lab fellows have been tapped to work on the Philadelphia projects. Devika Menon and Nathaniel Olin from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., respectively, are relocating to Philly this month to work with stakeholders, neighborhood residents, and city staff to create these department interventions.