Seated to Philadelphia City Council in 2016, Councilwoman Helen Gym has been leading a progressive agenda focused on working families and the city’s youth. She is Co-Chair of Local Progress, a national network of municipal officials bringing a progressive agenda of racial and economic justice to the forefront. Her work has garnered national attention and the 2017 Rising Star Award from EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest supporter of women in office.
A QUALITY PUBLIC SCHOOL FOR ALL
Championing new resources for schools
- Put a full-time nurse and counselor back in every public school.
- Brought social workers and a new STEP program to bring mental health services to dozens of schools through a new partnership between the City, School District, and Community Behavioral Health
- Campaigned for and won free, high-speed internet and a doubling of internet speeds for all school-age children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Led a campaign for the first investments in bilingual school services since 2011, including new ESOL teachers, bilingual staff and psychologists, and training.
- Championed new requirements for all public schools to provide free school breakfast in the classroom.
- Secured a $15 million investment in public schools from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, an all-time high in Parking Authority allocations since the agency's state takeover.
Modernizing school facilities
- Advocated for hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize buildings, resulting in air conditioning for dozens of new schools, expanded lead abatement, and new school facilities.
- Partnered with student activists to win modern water hydration stations in every school to ensure that all students have safe, clean, and cool drinking water at school.
- Passed new legislation requiring every school to have a minimum ratio of functioning water fountains for every 100 students.
- Co-sponsored legislation to protect students from hazardous lead paint in schools by requiring lead paint to be removed in a timely manner and according to best practices, and ensuring transparency.
Investing in quality teaching
- Won a legal complaint that brought tutoring and support services to special education students at schools suffering from teacher vacancies.
- Championed a new contract for Philadelphia school teachers and staff after a years-long standoff.
- Worked to improve the handling of teacher vacancies, recruitment, and diversity hires, including leading an investigatory hearing.
Ending the school to prison pipeline
- Increased school-based resources and programs for youth returning from placement to be welcomed into their school environments.
- Campaigned to successfully end K-2 suspensions and reform disciplinary practices.
- Held school budget town halls, drawing 2000+ Philadelphians who advocated and helped win improvements in their school communities.
- Hosted youth town halls to hear from student activists about the supports they need in schools and amplified student voices to win additional investments during budget processes.
- Hosted a series of town halls around the future of the Philadelphia School District and a new superintendent, engaging hundreds of Philadelphians and youth.
- Held a “Fair Funding” rally and advocacy day in support of a Supreme Court case challenging Pennsylvania’s inadequate and inequitable school funding laws.
- Introduced and passed an amendment to City law expanding Board of Education membership eligibility to all residents of Philadelphia.
- Ended the conversion of public schools to charters and forced a reassessment of District turnaround strategies.
- Drafted a report revealing poor academics and spending by a proposed charter school headed by out-of-state hedge fund managers, leading to their withdrawal from the District.
- Called for oversight of the District’s facilities work, including Environmental Action Teams at every school to monitor major renovations and repairs.
A HEALTHY AND SAFE CHILDHOOD
Investing in and protecting youth impacted by gun violence
- Developed a Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda following months of community town halls, youth roundtables, hearings, and public events.
- Called for “School Safety Zones” which were established in partnership with the Office of School Safety in 2021.
- Helped secure commitments from the School District to support schools most impacted by gun violence, including a new Director position to oversee supports in schools most impacted by gun violence.
- Won $20 million for a new Community Grants initiative to reduce and prevent violence.
Defending our most vulnerable youth
- Held the first-ever hearings on the issue of youth homelessness and won the first city budget line item to address youth homelessness.
- Secured funding and a commitment from the city to establish a Youth Ombudsperson office designed to advocate for vulnerable youth in group homes and residential facilities
- Passed a law mandating affirmative policies to support trans and gender non-conforming youth at all agencies publicly serving young people.
Leading on Juvenile Justice reform
- Successfully called to end city contracts with agencies with a documented history of abuse, including Wordsworth, VisionQuest and Glen Mills - the oldest reform school in the nation.
- Passed a “ban the box” law to ensure that youth do not have to disclose juvenile records to employers and have a fair chance at employment.
- Established the Youth Residential Placement Task Force to stop the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing out of county youth placements costing the city and schools more than $100 million annually.
- Served on a statewide gubernatorial task force to recommend major reforms in the state juvenile justice system.
Protecting against lead poisoning
- Co-sponsored a series of lead and water safety bills, which imposed new rigorous standards for lead testing in all school buildings and child care centers in the city, and required disclosure of lead service lines for tenants.
- Served on the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group, which led to increased spending on enforcement of dangerous and substandard rentals and homes.
HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT
Prioritizing stable housing during COVID
- Sponsored the Emergency Housing Protections Act, which kept Philadelphians housed during the COVID-19 pandemic by enacting a local eviction moratorium; an eviction diversion program; a temporary ban on late fees; and requiring tenants be provided the option of repayment plans to get back on track with rent. This legislation helped reduce evictions by 75 percent over two consecutive years and prevented tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19. (Co-sponsored with Councilmembers Gauthier and Brooks)
- Developed and implemented Philadelphia’s renowned Eviction Diversion Program, the first mandatory pre-filing diversion program in the nation requiring landlords and renters to resolve disputes with the aid of housing counseling before an eviction can be filed. The program has a 93% success rate in avoiding evictions and has been replicated by cities and states around the nation. In 2021, Philadelphia’s diversion program was lauded and recommended as a national model by the White House, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Treasury Department.
- Fought for local, state, and federal rental assistance funds, which resulted in the distribution of over $230 million in rent assistance to Philadelphians through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Led national press conferences to call for mortgage and rent cancellation, and advocate for federal and state rental assistance to stabilize the housing market.
Protecting renters from eviction
- Established a historic “Right to Counsel” law for low-income tenants facing eviction, the first civil Gideon effort in the city.
- Established the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, providing legal defense, a landlord-tenant helpline, and housing counseling. In its first year PEPP reduced evictions by 20 percent in a city which ranks fourth in the nation in eviction filings. PEPP is now funded at over $2 million annually.
- Successfully advocated at the state level for the First Judicial District’s incorporation of the eviction diversion and rental assistance programs as part of the required pre-filing process for eviction cases.
- Formed an Anti-Eviction Task Force, which worked with agencies across the city and courts to develop new programs for renters and advance a full set of policy recommendations to better prevent and respond to evictions and keep families in their homes.
Improving housing quality and affordability
- Helped secure $20M a year into the Housing Trust Fund to support affordable housing initiatives and eviction prevention efforts.
- Co-sponsored a charter change that ensured dedicated funding for the Housing Trust Fund at 0.5% of the city’s annual operating budget. (Sponsored by Councilmember Derek Green)
- Championed a local housing voucher and rent subsidy program which launched in Jan 2020 to support individuals struggling to make their rent.
- Advocated for changes to municipal court policy to protect renters from substandard housing, including a rule change requiring landlords to have a clear L&I record and a one year rental license in order to file for eviction.
- Co-sponsored legislation to protect rightful home dwellers and crack down on scammers who create fraudulent leases. (Sponsored by Councilmember Parker)
PROSPERITY AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL
Improving wages and working conditions
- Sponsored the nation’s most expansive Fair Workweek law, guaranteeing stable schedules, predictability pay, and a path to full-time hours for 130,000 hourly workers in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries.
- Sponsored legislation expanding the prevailing wage for more than 2,000 building service workers such as janitors and security guards across Philadelphia.
- Co-sponsored a law to provide workers up to two weeks’ paid leave to care for themselves or family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sponsored by Councilmember Brooks).
- Co-sponsored legislation to provide City contractors and sub-contractors with a $15/hour living wage. (Sponsored by Councilmember Squilla)
Expanding worker protections
- Wrote and passed the Black Workers Matter Economic Justice package, ensuring 12,000 hospitality workers in hotels, entertainment venues, and the Philadelphia International Airport are given first right of return to jobs they held prior to the pandemic.
- Wrote and passed a first in the nation anti-retaliation law to protect workers seeking to uphold public health mandates in the workplace.
- Established a permanent Department of Labor dedicated to educating and enforcing city labor laws.
- Co-sponsored a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights law, benefitting over 15,000 domestic workers. (Sponsored by Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez)
- Passed legislation to require businesses that receive city subsidies to report data about economic value and job quality.
- Supported the PILOTs campaign that ultimately led to the University of Pennsylvania pledging $100 million dedicated toward lead, asbestos and mold remediation in Philadelphia’s public schools.
- Led the first reforms to the ten-year property tax abatement, phasing in tax payments in 10% increments, directing new funding to schools and limiting gentrification.
- Introduced a resolution calling on City leaders to spearhead a Commission on Tax Equity and Growth, to advance a tax plan that centers racial equity and inclusive growth.
- Challenged the use of Keystone Opportunity Zones in rapidly developing areas.
MOBILITY AND TRANSIT EQUITY
- Led campaign to win free SEPTA fares for children 12 and under.
- Advocated for a public transit fare system built on equity, including the end of transfer fees
- Spearheaded the establishment of a citywide planning process to ensure our transportation infrastructure equitably serves the needs of all Philadelphians, including immigrants, people with disabilities, seniors, and low-income people.
- Supported the first-ever city funding to expand a “reverse commuting” program to help low-income Philadelphians access suburban jobs as part of a transit equity commitment with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. (Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Greenlee and Green)
- Helped lead citywide plan to reduce traffic deaths and injuries by installing speed controls and other neighborhood improvements, and to increase safety for families with children commuting to school.
- Passed new legislation requiring stricter standards for pedestrian and sidewalk safety around construction sites. The new requirements limit the ability to shut down sidewalks without alternatives.
- Work with SEPTA and the administration to expand institutional pass partnerships with major employers in Philadelphia to boost ridership and expand access to transit
CIVIL RIGHTS, RACIAL JUSTICE, AND COMMUNITY ACTION
Fighting racism and ending anti-Muslim bigotry
- Led the first airport protests against the Muslim Travel Ban and helped free detained refugee families at the airport.
- Following Charlottesville, led the call to remove the Frank Rizzo statue and to review all monuments and publicly named streets and buildings in the City of Philadelphia.
- Passed an anti-Islamophobia resolution to demonstrate support and solidarity with Philadelphia’s Muslim community.
- Passed a resolution in coordination with the School District of Philadelphia to ensure our schools are safe havens for immigrant families by protecting students’ learning environments from disruptions by ICE.
- Called to address racism and to uplift Black voices in City departments, including the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the School District of Philadelphia.
- Distributed posters supporting diversity and inclusion and decrying hate throughout the city.
- Passed a resolution denouncing Donald Trump’s assault on civil and human rights.
Standing up for immigrant communities
- Won first city budget line item to establish a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation, garnering national attention and matching funds from national and local foundations.
- Called for and successfully ended the City’s information sharing agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
- In 2017, led a citywide campaign to raise funds to support Pennsylvania applicants to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and increase access to legal assistance and “know your rights” education for immigrant families.
- Passed a resolution condemning the Berks County Residential Center for the imprisonment and prolonged detention of asylum-seeking children and families as inhumane and counter to international law, and calling on Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to close the prison which finally occurred in 2021.
- Co-sponsored municipal ID legislation to ensure all Philadelphians have access to key services. (Sponsored by Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez)
- Co-sponsored legislation to permanently establish the Office of Immigrant Affair and ensure long-term City support for immigrant families in Philadelphia. (Sponsored by Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez)
- Passed a resolution urging the US Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its proposed rule changing the definition of public charge, and expressing opposition to the proposed rule as inhumane and undermining access to essential health, nutrition, and shelter for immigrants and their families.
Protecting our civil rights and liberties
- Led investigative hearings to seek accountability for the City of Philadelphia’s use of force and teargassing of demonstrators for Black Lives Matter in May and June of 2020.
- Passed legislation to ban the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of tear gas and other less-lethal munitions towards demonstrators and bystanders.
- Expanded the city’s anti-discrimination law to include sexual identity and gender non-conformity and ensured that City Hall would provide gender neutral bathrooms on every floor.
- Passed the first official recognition of Trans Day of Visibility in Philadelphia and hosted a celebration in City Council to honor the day.
- Passed a resolution urging the United States Senate to pass Medicare for All and affirming universal access to health care as a human right.
- Passed a resolution affirming a human right to earn a living and to a safe and dignified workplace, regardless of immigration status.
- Advocated to protect students and faculty from racial discrimination at a religious college, resulting in a supportive amicus brief from the City of Philadelphia.
- Hosted a reading of the Stanford Survivor’s letter in City Hall, bringing together government officials and advocates for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
- Passed resolution declaring solidarity with and support for the #MuteRKelly campaign, a grassroots movement that seeks to remedy decades of silence surrounding the sexual abuse of young Black women and girls by denying R. Kelly a public platform within the City of Philadelphia.
Honoring our ancestors and history
- Passed a nationally recognized historic city apology to Jackie Robinson for racism he suffered while playing in Philadelphia.
- Honored Korematsu Day and Fred Korematsu’s legacy of defending civil liberties.
- Passed a resolution commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the November 17, 1967, Citywide Black Student Walkout, and held cross-generational events celebrating the spirit of student organizing throughout Philadelphia's history. Worked with high school students to establish an official state marker to commemorate the event.
- Passed a resolution declaring that Philadelphia recognizes May Day to honor workers and the labor movement, in perpetuity.
- Co-sponsored an official city apology for the 35th anniversary of the MOVE bombing. (Sponsored by Councilmember Gauthier)
- Passed a resolution honoring the life and achievements of the scholar, scientist, and fighter for world peace W.E.B. DuBois, and declaring 2018 as the Year of DuBois in the City of Philadelphia.
- Passed a resolution commemorating the life of Temple professor and civil liberties champion John Raines, who participated in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, bravely seized and leaked FBI files revealing government surveillance of civilians in 1971, and served as a tireless activist for peace and racial justice.
- During the 2020 election, helped rally thousands of people to the Convention Center and uplifted a nationally televised Count the Vote rally to ensure a fair democratic process and a huge dance party for democracy.
- Fought to protect the Affordable Care Act, with a resolution, phone banking, protests, and mobilizations.
- Spearheaded the PA fight against the confirmation of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, helping lead tens of thousands of calls to Senate offices.
- In response to Donald Trump’s election, organized a Community Action Meeting where more than 600 community members pledged over $15,000 for local organizing, and made more than 1000 organizing commitments.
- Passed a widely-cited resolution welcoming Gritty, the new mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, and honoring the spirit and passion that Gritty has brought to the City of Philadelphia and to the entire country— garnering national attention for Philly’s iconic mascot from the Washington Post to The Ringer to “Saturday Night Live.”
- Passed a resolution honoring trailblazing writer, actor, comedian, and Philadelphia native, Quinta Brunson, for her creation of “Abbott Elementary” — a joyful reminder to appreciate the importance and strength of our city's educators, while celebrating just how special Philly is.