New Initiative Established to Tackle Philadelphia’s Housing Crisis


There has been a decline in affordable housing in Philadelphia, forcing the state into a housing crisis. Research also has it that Philadelphia has the greatest percentage of people living in poverty in the whole country. However, there have been plans to improve the situation, and out of those plans has come the PHL Participatory Design Lab.

The lab is intent on enhancing resident’s experiences with the city’s services. The lab will start its operations by focusing on the Office of Homeless Services, and Department of Revenue. According to the team that developed the lab, the Office of Homeless Services and Department of Revenue have entirely different goals but are common in that they both have a hand in handling the housing crisis the city is currently facing.

The idea was invented by the Mayor’s Office of Policy, Legislation, and Intergovernmental Affairs in collaboration with the Open Data and Digital Transformation office. It is only the newest, among other plans the city has to deliver better experiences for the residents. The Knight Foundation was responsible for the funds that made it possible for the idea to come to life.

Over the next 13 months, the lab team is expected to research how the city can embed social science and service design techniques to create a better interaction experience with residents. Amongst the issues they will look at are online services and face-to-face interactions. They will also meet with Philadelphia residents and stakeholders, and the two departments, as they try to determine the most needed improvements for enhancing service experience.

The OHS has an outdated intake system which takes people directly to shelter when there is a crisis, and it doesn’t seem to be the best option now. Through the design lab, OHS hopes to restructure its intake system into one that provides emergency housing to affected individuals. According to OHS Director Liz Hersch, they need a system makeover that will allow them to better meet, evaluate, and address the needs of every individual that seeks their help.

The Department of Revenue owns the Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement system. The system enables house owners to make small monthly payments on properties whose taxes haven’t been paid. The department hopes they can use the design lab to improve the services offered by its system. It is only after finding out which improvements are needed that the lab team will start testing out the services at the two departments.