Fighting Poverty, Ensuring Public Safety, Equitable Economic Development on Fall Agenda
Philadelphia City Council returned to session on Thursday with its first meeting of a Fall certain to be filled with ambitious proposals from members to attack the city’s unacceptably high poverty rate, address and prevent a rising level of gun violence, and craft economic stimulus programs designed to create more opportunity for more Philadelphians from every neighborhood.
This week’s Stated Meeting was the first of 12 that will be held from now until December. As a reminder, the last meeting in December will mark the end this four-year term of Council.
Over the summer, City Council staff and members were hard at work devising an anti-poverty agenda to attack and lower Philadelphia’s stubbornly-high poverty rate of 26 percent, among the highest in the nation. 400,000 Philadelphians live below the poverty line.
Under the leadership of Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) and Councilmember Maria Quinones Sanchez (7th District), a Special Committee on Poverty was established in the spring, and over the last several months, four co-chairs were named, committee and sub-committees established, and a fall agenda was scheduled.
The first public meeting of the Special Committee on Poverty is scheduled for October 10th at City Hall. There also are three subcommittees in formation that will address different elements of the city’s vexing poverty problems. The four co-chairs of the entire effort are Councilmember Quinones Sanchez; Kenney administration Deputy Mayor Eva Gladstein; Sharmain Matlock Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition; and Mel Wells of One Day At A Time. There will be five public meetings all told.
Council President Clarke told the media this week that Council’s Special Committee would set a goal of lowering the city’s poverty rate to below 20 percent by the end of the next term of Council which starts in January 2020.
“It is simply unacceptable to me and to all of us that Philadelphia has a poverty rate this high for so long,” said Council President Clarke. “Through the work of Council’s Special Committee and the leadership of Council member Quinones Sanchez and others, we will move the needle on poverty in Philadelphia.”
“Every city department and agency has a role to play in addressing poverty,” Councilmember Quinones Sanchez said. “We want every department and city employee to be asking the question: how is what we’re doing impacting poverty in Philadelphia?”
Preventing Gun Violence
Philadelphia is struggling with too many firearms and too much gun violence. From weekends with double-digit shootings to a gun homicide rate higher than larger U.S. cities, Philadelphia is grappling with a wave of gun violence. Last month, a gunman holed up in a North Philadelphia rowhome shot six city police officers and left an entire neighborhood under siege in the national spotlight.
There have also been shootings at city recreation centers and playgrounds where children and families go to play. Shootings near playgrounds in Overbrook and Southwest Philadelphia led Council President Clarke and state legislators in July to announce plans for a Safe Havens law to prohibit firearms and other deadly weapons at rec centers. The local measure will also need state enabling legislation, and Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195th) is leading that effort with her Philadelphia delegation colleagues in Harrisburg.
Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. (4th District) also announced plans this week to move forward with legislation that will make it easier for citizens to seek and obtain court approval to order individuals who pose an danger to themselves or others to relinquish their guns and firearms.
A Fairer Economy for All
What to do about the city’s Real Estate Tax Abatement program? Should it be amended, ended, or left intact?
To many in the city’s real estate development community, the city’s 10-year tax abatement program has been a critical catalyst for an economic boom of development and new housing sales across Philadelphia over the past decade.
But to some members of City Council and many advocates for a more equitable, neighborhood-based economic development strategy, the tax abatement program is an outdated strategy that must be changed to reflect a more diverse, growing Philadelphia.
In fiscal year 2019, the estimate for real estate tax revenues foregone by the tax abatement program was $48 million for the city and $61 million for the School District of Philadelphia.
Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) has introduced legislation to end the tax abatement program entirely. Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) has introduced legislation and promised a “radical overhaul” of the program. Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) has proposed a more moderate approach, introducing legislation that would pare down the size of the abatement in its final years.
In a recent radio interview on WURD, Council President Clarke predicted change would finally come to the tax abatement program before the current session ends in December.
“Is a 10-year, 100% tax abatement still needed in the city of Philadelphia? I would say absolutely not,” the Council President told WURD. “I’m not saying that the 10-year tax abatement will come to an end. I’m saying there may be some changes.”
“Taking Care of Business”
In other news relating to Council’s goal of a fairer economy for every Philadelphian, Councilmember Cherelle Parker (9th District) introduced an ambitious proposal today, modeled on a successful program in her 9th Council District, to hire 30 part-time workers for each of Council’s 10 districts to clean and beautify neighborhood commercial business corridors.
Parker is calling the program, “PHL Taking Care of Business”. The plan calls for the city to transfer $10 million from the city’s general fund balance to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, which will then enter into contractual agreements with neighborhood CDCs to administer the corridor cleaning efforts in each Council district.
Each job would pay a living wage of $15 an hour and guarantee 25 hours per week of work.
In a passionate floor speech after introducing the ordinance to fund the program, Parker took issue with naysayers wondering how a smattering of part-time jobs would move the needle at all on poverty.
“A job paying a living wage of $15 an hour at 25 hours per week means $375 a week and $1,500 a month,” Parker told her colleagues. “That’s money for groceries. That’s money for gas or public transportation. Do not tell us this won’t have an impact – because it will.”
In other legislative news today, Councilmember Derek Green (At Large) introduced a transfer ordinance that would earmark $10 million for immediate repairs to Philadelphia public schools and infrastructure, following news released a day earlier that a school teacher had developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer often linked to asbestos. The one-time grant would also come from the city’s fund balance.
“It’s such an urgent issue,” said Green, whose mother spent decades teaching in the district and whose son attends a district school. “The state needs to do their share, but we need to put some skin in the game, from my perspective. It allows us to say, ‘We did our part here.’”
… Inside the Rail
In other legislative news at Council’s first-session-back, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced a resolution to hold hearings on the sudden closure of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, a decision that put hundreds of workers out of work and left the city without a gas and oil refinery for the first time in more than a century…
Councilmember Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution honoring Robert Sorrell, the longtime head of the Urban League in Philadelphia, who passed away in August. Numerous members spoke glowingly of Sorrell and his skillful mentorship of emerging African-American leaders in the city.
The next stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled for next Thursday, September 19, at 10 a.m. in Council chambers on the 4th floor at City Hall.
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