During the week of Nov. 11, 2019, Philadelphia City Council took action on a number of items, including providing legal counsel to low-income renters facing eviction and end-of-year budget transfers.
City Budget Director Marissa Waxman testified at the Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the transfer of city funds to meet end-of-year commitments.
The largest transfer of $14.9 million will be appropriated to the Philadelphia Fire Department to fully fund payroll obligations. The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office will receive nearly $4 million, and the city’s Health Department will receive just over $500,000.
Ten million dollars in funds will also be allocated to the Housing Trust Fund, and $20 million will be put into a recession reserve.
Waxman said that while the City has brought in more revenue than expected, there are still challenges that must be addressed.
“We should all be pleased with this improvement in our finances, but also acknowledge that we are starting in a vulnerable place with a weak tax base a community with many unmet needs,” Waxman said.
A high level of fixed costs, the pension fund still being less than 50% funded, and a potential recession were mentioned by Waxman as potential financial hurdles.
The Housing Committee heard testimony on bill 190860, sponsored by Councilmember Derek Green.
Green said the city has a significant concern regarding affordable housing.
“I’m seeing the reduction in affordable housing unities in the city of Philadelphia, especially units where the city, state, or federal government provides some type of subsidies,” Green said.
Anne Fadullon, director of the city’s Planning and Development department, said the bill would provide a regulatory framework through which extended notice would be required for developers of government subsidized housing projects of an impending action that may result in the loss of affordable units.
Fadullon said a major impediment to affordable housing in the city is the very old housing stock and very low incomes.
“If you consider housing or building similar to how you consider other infrastructure, we’re a 350 year old city,” Fadullon said. “We’re talking about how do we replace our roads, our bridges, our you know, sewer system.
Fadullon said a high percentage of Philadelphia’s buildings are between 40 and 70 years old, which has led to deterioration.
“So a lot of our effort is around how do we preserve that?” Fadullon said. “I think another issue for us around affordable housing, particularly preservation, is that we used to get a lot more federal dollars. So we were able to produce a lot more units.”
Fadullon said many aging units are at risk of being lost because of a lack of recapitalization, which requires advocates to realize different solutions to the problem.
The bill was approved and will be heard at the next session of council.
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%.
In discussing the importance of the bill, Gym said that fewer than one in 10 tenants attend their court proceedings because they do not have legal representation.
Philadelphia tenants faced over 20,000 evictions last year, according to Gym, and 70% of those evictions are black women who are mothers.
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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