Another Eviction Notice

Philadelphia’s landlords are still using armed guards to evict people. A group of public officials and a woman shot in the head during such an eviction demanded accountability this week.

A few months ago, I wrote about the city’s Landlord Tenant Officers and how one of them shot a woman in the head while doing an eviction.

Unlike most places, the City of Philadelphia allows landlords to outsource evictions. Instead of letting them be the province of the sheriff’s department, which has direct public accountability, a private, for-profit attorney is pretty much allowed to send people to chuck tenants out of their homes.

Unfortunately, some of these evictions have ended with people being shot. Since I wrote about Angel Davis, a woman who was shot in the head while being evicted from her Girard Court apartment in North Philadelphia, two more people have wound up in the hospital after an armed eviction due to gunshot wounds.

While two state senators — Sharif Street and Nikil Saval — and two state house members — Morgan Cephas and Tarik Khan — have introduced legislation on the state level to make this practice illegal, you would think that someone in a city where politicians did nothing but talk about gun violence for months on end in the name of becoming the next mayor would look at this and say, “We need to do something…”

On Tuesday, a group of Philadelphia City Council members joined by members of Philadelphia’s delegation in Harrisburg held a press conference to denounce the practice of private evictions.

Back when folks recognized that COVID-19 was a deadly disease and needed to be treated as such, Philadelphia became a model for the nation in terms of eviction prevention, said City Councilmember Kendra Brooks.

The way these private evictions have been handled sends the opposite message, she said.

“Our city is a national model for preventing evictions,” Brooks said. “We can and must set a standard for public accountability as well. In every other municipality in Pennsylvania, this duty is carried out under direct government supervision, established guidelines, and public accountability. Philadelphia should not be the exception.”

In a statement issued by City Councilmember Brooks, her fellow at-large councilmembers Isaiah Thomas, James Harrity, and Sharon Vaughn, and district Councilmembers Mark Squilla, (1st District) Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Mike Driscoll (6th District), Anthony Phillips (9th District), and Quetcy Lozada (7th District), Council called for the practice to end.

“Allowing a private, for-profit entity unfettered control over a core government function has led to unnecessary violence and trauma for countless Philadelphians,” the statement said. “As elected members of City Council, we are committed to returning the responsibility for enforcing evictions to the public domain where it belongs. In every other municipality in Pennsylvania, this task is carried out under direct government oversight, established standards, and public accountability. Philadelphia should not be the exception.”

Accompanied by her lawyer Bethany Nikitenko, Davis announced her intention to Lamont Daniels, the officer that shot her and Marisa Shuter, the court-appointed attorney currently serving as the city’s landlord-tenant officer. Since Davis’s shooting, a landlord-tenant office’s employee fired at a dog during an eviction and on July 18, another private contractor shot a woman in the leg.

I see the city having to write some checks with a whole lot of zeros on them in the not-to-distant future. Which is probably why evictions have been suspended since July 19.

As I said earlier, most municipalities have the sheriff’s department handle evictions. There’s more accountability and the residents probably get more than the 10 minutes that private contractors give people to vacate.

Maybe this combination of legislative pressure and lawsuits will get us a little closer to the accountability that our taxpayer dollars demand.

In any case, we’ll continue to keep an eye on this.  

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