City Hall: City Council Highlights for Nov. 14, 2019

Philadelphia City Council’s stated meeting for Nov. 14, 2019, included fund transfer ordinances and the passing of right-to-counsel legislation for renters facing eviction. 

Finance and Appropriations 

The Finance Committee favorably reported bill 190746, which provides a half-percent tax refund to low income residents for taxes paid from 2015 to 2019. The bill also reduces the January to June tax burden on low-income residents to 1.8712%, and the July 2020 to June 2021 tax rate to zero. The bill had its first reading at Thursday’s meeting.

The Appropriations Committee favorably reported four bills relating to the transfer of funds from the general fund to various city agencies. 

Two of the bills, 190854 and 190855, make changes to the city’s 2020-2025 capital budget and shift funds to city agencies such as the fire department, to cover payroll shortages. 

Bills No. 190856 and 190857 allow for the transfer of fiscal year 2019 and 2020 funds to various departments that are experiencing budget shortfalls. 

Right to Counsel bill passes unanimously 

Councilmember Helen Gym’s Right to Counsel bill passed unanimously. The bill provides low income renters with low-cost or free legal counsel in Landlord-Tenant court. Gym said that in 2017 the population of renters in the city topped 50%. 

Gym said the initial investment in the program was $500,000, is now at $2.1 million, and will probably grow exponentially every year. She also stressed the importance of connecting renters to other resources before a potential eviction.

“We could also do a lot on the pre-eviction stage where you really want to connect them in with benefits groups and other opportunities, support networks and housing supports, before they have to land an apartment,” Gym said.

Gym also noted fewer than one in 10 tenants attend their court proceedings due to not having legal representation. 

The biggest hurdle, according to Gym, is informing tenants that they have the right to legal assistance when they receive an eviction notice. 

Philadelphia tenants faced over 20,000 evictions last year, according to Gym, and 70% of those evictions are black women who are mothers. 

“We are taking this issue head on and giving people the most expansive rights that they can have, assuring them that they will be equally represented in the court of law and that the City is behind them,” Gym said. 

Library Fines

Councilmember Cherelle Parker said that Mayor Jim Kenney’s office had issued a press release calling for the elimination of fines at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which echoes a resolution Parker brought to council in September. 

Parker noted that Chicago has implemented a similar strategy and has seen a 240% increase in book returns. 

“It looks like as a result of the Mayor’s announcement, it is time for the Philadelphia Free Library go fine free and eliminate date,” Parker said. 

School Asbestos Concerns

Councilmember Derek Green, who, in September had sought an emergency transfer of $10 million for asbestos removal from city schools, said the School District of Philadelphia did not have the resources or ability to spend the money for remediation. 

“There’s a capacity issue in the city because of all the construction that’s going on,” Green said. “The district has been working hard to find contractors [to perform the remediation work].”

Green said the city needs a long-term plan in order to deal with the school district’s maintenance issues.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s 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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