In Council News, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, News by PHL Council

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(PHILADELPHIA) October 20, 2021 – Today, Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, Chair of the Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development, and Homelessness, hosted a hearing to explore the issue of tangled titles. According to recent research from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia has at least 10,407 tangled titles, and half of these titles became tangled within the last decade. The vast majority of these tangled titles result from heirs not acting after the record owner of a property dies. If unremedied, tangled titles can force a resident to leave their home, or to cope with hazardous living conditions. Homes with tangled titles are more likely to fall into disrepair or even become abandoned, creating blight in neighborhoods and decreasing the availability of affordable housing.

“Over a billion dollars in generational wealth is currently caught up in tangled titles and that is a low estimate,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson (at-Large). “Thousands of Philadelphians have struggled to gain title to a family home, including me. Based on the Pew report, we know more than 10,000 families are currently living in a home of a deceased loved one. With today’s hearing we have a better understanding of how residents are impacted, how local government is addressing this crisis, and the types of assistance available. This will help us further identify solutions to prevent future tangled titles and to better serve those already in need. Thank you to everyone who joined today’s hearing, and to my colleague, Councilmember Gauthier, for her support and leadership.”

“Tangled titles make it impossible for residents to qualify for resources, like loans and city-run repair programs, that can be a lifesaver when it comes to maintaining a property – especially for low-income homeowners,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District). “As a result, homes with tangled titles often fall into disrepair, and are sometimes even abandoned – in turn creating conditions that make communities vulnerable to divestment and increased levels of violence. If safe, stable neighborhoods are the goal, then addressing our city’s tangled title crisis is a necessary step in the right direction. I’m grateful to my colleague Councilmember Gilmore Richardson for her partnership, and her leadership on this important issue.”

Witnesses included residents who have lived experience untangling titles, experts who have researched the economic impact of this crisis, and practitioners who address these issues every day:

“Tangled Titles are a crisis here in Philadelphia,” said Register of Wills Tracey Gordon. “For far too long we have allowed this slow moving train wreck to bring blight and violence to our neighborhoods. I was honored to give testimony before City Council on the critical issue of Tangled Titles. But this is only the beginning. My office and I look forward to working more closely with City Council and the legal community as we combat this crisis. Thank you, Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, for your leadership.”

“Somebody living in a home with a tangled title has all the obligations of homeownership—such as paying real estate taxes and maintaining the property—but with few of the resources and protections afforded to deed holders,” said Garrett Hincken of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative. “Resolving the issue can be daunting, particularly for households with limited means. Left unresolved, tangled titles can undercut family wealth, the preservation of affordable housing and, ultimately, neighborhood stability.”

“Tangled titles are locking up over $1.1 billion in family wealth in predominately Black and Brown neighborhoods,” said Michael Froelich, Managing Attorney of the Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit of Community Legal Services. “This is a critical moment in our City to help close the racial wealth gap, and on behalf of our low-income clients, CLS is grateful that City Council, the administration, the Register of Wills, and other officials are rising to meet this moment.”

“We have been chipping away at tangled titles since 2003, so Philadelphia VIP has learned the importance of coordinating efforts to preserve homeownership in low-income communities,” said Rida Haq, Executive Director of Philadelphia VIP. “We’re thrilled to see stakeholders across the city coming together to address this issue with a collaborative and impact-focused approach. We’re especially grateful to DHCD for their longstanding commitment to resolving tangled titles, to members of City Council, and the Office of the Register of Wills for their leadership in not only asking the right questions, but also probing for real solutions. This dedication will help elevate this concern, and will benefit countless families and individuals across the city.”

As a follow-up from this hearing, Councilmembers Gilmore Richardson and Gauthier will lead a working group comprised of local experts on tangled title to identify solutions for this growing concern. Additionally, Councilmember Gilmore Richardson’s bill requiring probate information to be shared along with death certificates will be heard in the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Monday, October 25 at 9 AM.

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Watch the hearing:

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