WEEKLY REPORT: COUNCIL TO CONSIDER BILLS TO ADDRESS LEAD CONTAMINATION IN SCHOOLS, QUANTIFY UNCLAIMED PROPERTY

In Cherelle Parker, Cindy Bass, Council News, Darrell L. Clarke, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla, News by PHL Council

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COUNCILMEMBER GYM ANNOUNCES PLAN TO REMOVE LEAD FROM SCHOOL DRINKING WATER BY 2025

Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) this week introduced legislation to effectively eliminate lead from the drinking water in Philadelphia schools by requiring water fountains be equipped with modern, effective filtration systems. Building on legislation Gym led through Council to implement stricter testing requirements and expand water access, this bill will require the full transition of all Philadelphia schools to modern lead-free hydration systems.

“The only safe amount of lead in our schoolkids’ water is zero — and this legislation will make that a reality,” Councilmember Gym said. “Every child deserves safe, clean drinking water, and the pandemic underscored the need for higher standards for public health. We want every student, every family, and every school community to feel confident in knowing the water they drink is lead free.”

This legislation will require water fountains to be equipped with highly-effective filters, certified to meet national drinking water standards, by 2025. A push led by Councilmember Gym and student advocates in 2016 set the strictest lead thresholds in the country at 10 ppb and led to the installation of at least three modern hydration stations in every District school.

“My first legislative campaign on Council was to ensure and expand safe water access to every City school, and today, we’re setting a deadline to get this done,” said Gym. “I am excited to introduce this with majority support in our City Council, and in alignment with the District and their recent public commitment to fully transition to modern hydration stations.”

“Today’s legislation is a welcome and critical step forward: the expansion of the hydration station program is an effective solution to an historic problem,” said Jerry T. Jordan, President, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “The PFT will continue working shoulder to shoulder with Councilmember Gym and all members of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition to further effectuate meaningful action to eradicate not only lead in drinking water, but also to address the myriad other toxic conditions that persist.”

“The science is clear, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water,” stated Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Advocate. “If enacted, Councilmember Gym’s legislation will address the public health crisis of lead in public school drinking water once and for all.”

Gym’s legislation listed eight Councilmember co-sponsors: Cindy Bass (8th District), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), Derek Green (At-Large), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Cherelle Parker (9th District), and Mark Squilla (1st District).

COUNCIL APPROVES AFFORDABLE HOUSING PRESERVATION OVERLAY DISTRICT BILL

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier’s Affordable Housing Preservation Overlay District Bill (AHPOD) received final approval from Council this week. AHPOD aims to encourage the production of affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods in West Philadelphia. The overlay includes the University City Townhomes at 40th and Market Streets – which are in danger of being lost to commercial development – along with a neighboring location in the 3rd District where low-income residents could be vulnerable to displacement without additional policy protections.

“The way that affordable housing policy has been handled over the years reflects a grave injustice to our communities, and low-income residents in particular,” said Councilmember Gauthier. “Our goal with this legislation is to support the public interest by making sure as much affordable housing remains in amenity-rich neighborhoods—which are experiencing immense commercial development pressures—as we possibly can.”

Last year, the owner of the University City Townhomes notified the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that they would not be renewing their affordable housing contract, instead opting to sell the property. Given the current market forces in this area of University City, it is anticipated that any future development would prioritize commercial development over residential development – a result Councilmember Gauthier considers an injustice, both to the current residents of the Townhomes and to the former residents of the Black Bottom, a majority-Black community which was razed during urban renewal to make way for a science and technology research campus.

Since AHPOD’s introduction in October 2021, it has been amended to bring it more in line with the Mixed Income Neighborhoods Overlay (MIN) which, when applicable, requires 20 percent of units to be offered at rents affordable for rental households earning up to 40 percent area median income (AMI), and for owner-occupied households earning up to 60 percent of AMI. Within AHPOD, any nonresidential use must be contained to the first floor in buildings taller than one story; any required affordable units must be built on-site; and the bill will go into effect immediately. If future development occurs, AHPOD in combination with MIN incentivizes dense residential development and maximizing affordable housing units in the overlay areas.

An additional ordinance, Bill No. 220007, expands AHPOD to other transit-adjacent locations that are zoned for commercial mixed-use along the Market-Frankford line. The new ordinance will further ensure affordability by requiring a higher percentage of affordable units, beyond the requirements of MIN, if developers wish to access density bonuses for other purposes. This bill is under consideration by Council and currently awaits a hearing.

A large portion of government-funded housing sites are owned and operated by profit-motivated companies, who, when facing the option of renewing their HUD contracts or pursuing more lucrative purposes for their properties, may have little incentive to continue offering affordable housing. Councilmember Gauthier believes that it is incredibly urgent to address the continuing loss of these affordable units, which will be exceedingly difficult to replace.

COUNCILMEMBER GILMORE RICHARDSON INTRODUCES BILL TO ACCOUNT FOR THE CITY’S UNCLAIMED PROPERTY

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson  this week introduced legislation to help account for the City’s unclaimed property. Unclaimed property refers to funds or other property owed to individuals or institutions that has been turned over to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania due to lack of action by the owner.

There is nearly $4 Billion in unclaimed property in the Commonwealth’s database. The City of Philadelphia has at least 250 claims in the Commonwealth’s online database.

“As our city looks to our post COVID-19 recovery, we need to ensure we are not leaving any resources on the table,” said Councilmember Gilmore Richardson. “Our total obligations are increasing, and like many other cities, our budget has taken a huge hit. Every dollar owed to the City of Philadelphia must be accounted for and collected, so we can provide Philadelphians with the quality resources they need.”

This legislation will require the Director of Finance to submit an annual report to Council and the Controller of all unclaimed property owed to the City, a status update regarding claims in process, and the total amount of revenue returned to the City.

Philadelphia residents may also have unclaimed property. Residents should go to the Pennsylvania Treasury website to learn more and search for what they may be owed: https://www.patreasury.gov/unclaimed-property/

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IN OTHER NEWS…

Honoring the Life of a Neighborhood Housing Activist. Councilmember Kendra Brooks introduced a resolution on Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District)’s behalf, commemorating the life and activism of Jennifer Bennetch, a vocal advocate for more affordable housing for homeless individuals and others throughout her life. Ms. Bennetch died recently of complications from COVID-19. Ms. Bennetch was well-known to many members of Council, who noted her passing with additional comments on Thursday, including Brooks, Councilmember Maria Quinones Sanchez (7th District), and Council President Clarke.

Councilmember Gym Comments on Removal of Phila. Parking Authority Executive Director. With the news of PPA executive director Scott Petri’s sudden removal, Councilmember Gym – a frequent critic of the Authority, weighed in with a statement. “Scott Petri has had a disastrous reign at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, rife with chaos, financial mismanagement, and a blatant disregard for meeting its most critical duty: to serve as a public trust. From failed development efforts to demanding a “refund” from public schoolkids, he consistently lowered the bar on public service. The decision by the Board to oust Petri from leadership validates the seriousness of our concerns and the need for structural reform of the Parking Authority, including independent oversight of its budget and a return to local control as a city agency.”

Celebrating the Life and Leadership of Harriet Tubman.  Councilmember Cindy Bass introduced a resolution commemorating the life and times of Harriet Tubman, an enslaved Black woman from Maryland who crossed Pennsylvania lines, threw off slavery, and became an inspirational leader in the efforts to end slavery in the Civil War. “Harriet Tubman liberated herself in 1849 when she crossed the Pennsylvania line and found a thriving free Black community in Philadelphia, a city of reformers, abolitionists and suffragists ready to embrace her,” the resolution states. “Harriet Tubman with the help of William Still, Lucretia Mott, Stephen Smith, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and many others, became one of the most significant “conductors” on the Underground Railroad and once remarked: “I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” The City is honoring Tubman’s 200th birthday this month.

OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK

Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council 3-10-2022

Committee on Streets and Services 3-10-2022

PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES

Source: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, March 17, 2022 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.

Photo: Visit Philadelphia

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