City Hall: City Council Highlights for Sept. 19, 2019

City Council met on Sept. 19, 2019, for the second meeting of the fall session. Sixteen of the 17 members were present, with Councilmember Mark Squilla granted leave.

Councilmember Blondell Reynolds-Brown amended bill 180936, an ordinance amending the city health code relating to lead paint hazards. The bill requires owners of housing units to test for lead-based coating in paint, and includes fines and possible jail-time for those who willfully violate the ordinance.

The amendments extend the implementation time frame of the bill, the effective date, and change the frequency of when certification takes place.

“It’s not unusual to hear the ask for the implementation of a bill be extended,” Reynolds-Brown said of the first amendment. “So we’re extending the implementation date from July 1, 2020, to October 2020. We’re then giving the health department and L&I two and a half years, to April 2022, to fully implement the bill.”

Reynolds-Brown said the second amendment to the bill concerned the time-frame of lead-safe recertification for dwellings, questioning whether certification should occur every year, every three years, or every turnover.

“Baltimore has recertification every turnover,” Reynolds-Brown said. “Rochester has recertification every three years. I’ve settled on every four years we would do recertification to make sure properties are lead safe.”

Reynold-Brown said making a property lead-free was more costly, so remediation would only have to be done one time.

“But our standard is lead-safe,” Reynolds-Brown said. “And for lead-safe we need recertification on some regular basis because paint begins to peel after a few years.”

George Gould of Community Legal Services testified during the public comment section of the meeting that, while his organization was largely supportive of the bill and its amendments, they were not in favor of the four-year certification amendment.

“Currently, the lead safe certification that’s given is valid for two years,” Gould said. “In the proposed bill, we compromised and changed it to three years. The new amendment will now change it to four years, and we think that is very problematic because paint can peel in a relatively short period of time and can be very hazardous, and if the certification is that long, this could create risk for families.”

Councilmember Blondell Reynolds-Brown introduces the amendments to Bill 180936.

In response to advocates who said that four years was too long a time to perform the proper testing, Reynolds-Brown said that finding common ground was difficult.

“We’ve been at this for a year now, and our bill is not going to be effective for almost another year from now,” she said. “So the bad news is, regretfully, we’re still going to have children adversely affected. But this bill ultimately improves the lives of Philadelphia’s children.”

Reynolds-Brown, responding to criticism from those who believe the votes exist to pass the bill in its current form, said she would not be bullied into passing the bill before it was ready.

“There are multiple sides to this equation,” she said. “We have the advocates, we have the landlords, we have guideposts in other cities. So for me, I factor in all sides and all considerations before making a move.”

Reynolds-Brown said there could be more changes to the bill before next week’s council meeting but was reluctant to put a date on when the bill could be passed.

“Just as we circulated very thorough amendment language Tuesday, we’ve since gotten another ask since Tuesday,” she said. “The bill we adopted today captured that ask. So I could get another ask between now and next Wednesday.”

The “ask” Reynolds-Brown referred to was landlords asking for a five-year period between testing. Reynolds-Brown settled on the four-year period, instead.

Reynolds-Brown said a fund has been established to aid small-time landlords in the remediation process.

“I’m told that the minimum cost per unit is $70-80,” she said. “The upper tier of that is $150, and if you go with those remediators that have already been licensed or approved by the health department, your costs tend to be less.”

Regarding enforcement of the new law, Reynolds-Brown said she was encouraged the health department and L&I were putting in place a new IT system. The hope is this leads to greater confidence the two departments will be able to talk to each other, which will aid in enforcement and was lacking in the current bill.

Councilmember Cherrelle Parker introduced a resolution commending Young Women in Construction, a free six-day camp available to girls from grades 7-12. The camp is organized by the NAWIC Philadelphia Foundation and Girls, Incorporated.

“On behalf of the women of Council, I am honored to introduce this resolution recognizing and commending the mentoring of young women in the construction industry,” Parker said.

She said the barriers that keep women from entering in the legal, medical, and construction industry are issues of privilege and class.

“If you weren’t born into, grew up with, or married into wealth, and you’re a woman of color, your barriers to entry, the grit, tenacity, everything that it takes for you to survive, may be different from another woman who looks like you,” Parker said.

Councilmember Bill Greenlee introduced a resolution calling on the Committee of Commerce and Economic Development to hold hearings concerning the unbanked and underbanked in Philadelphia, and the City’s plans for helping to provide access to banking services to all residents.

“It’s a follow-up to the cashless bill that we passed,” he said. “It came out during the hearings that usually between 6-10% of Philadelphians are unbanked or underbanked.”

Greenlee said the hearing would most likely not lead to any particular piece of legislation, but that ideas that come from the hearing could help people become banked.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a master’s degree in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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