City Council: Gauthier Chairs Housing Hearings; Thomas Calls for Underground Economy Hearing

Gauthier Chairs Hearings on Vouchers, Rent Control

On Monday, March 20th 2023, the City Council Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development, and the Homeless, held a hearing to discuss issues Philadelphians using tenant-based vouchers face.

The vouchers, commonly referred to as “Section 8 vouchers,” are issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and are designed to assist low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford private market housing, according to the HUD website.

To be eligible for a housing voucher, a family’s income must not exceed 50% of the income of the area in which they live. 75% of the vouchers must go to families whose income does not exceed 30% of the income threshold.

However, once obtaining a voucher, which can be a difficult process in itself, there is no guarantee a family will be able to use it.

Despite local legislation banning discrimination on how potential renters will pay their landlords, 65% of Philadelphia landlords do not accept vouchers, including 83% of landlords in low-poverty neighborhoods, according to Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.

“This widespread discrimination disproportionally affects black households, which compise over 80% of PHAs (public housing agencies) voucher population,” Gauthier said. “Tenant vouchers are a proxy for other types of discrimination we’re all too familiar with and are federally protected against such as race, gender, national origin, family status and disability.”

Gauthier said her office receives complaints from constituents every week who cannot use their vouchers. The problem has been exacerbated by the loss of public housing units in University City-those who lost their housing were issued vouchers they have not been able to use.

A lack of resources was a key refrain of the hearing, whether it be public housing, landlords willing to accept vouchers, or investigations by the Fair Housing Commission.

The Committee Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development, and the Homeless, also held a hearing on the concept of rent control in Philadelphia.

Rent control is the governmental restriction on the amount of rent landlords can charge to tenants in a given geographical area. Currently, California and Oregon have state-wide rent control laws, and municipalities within Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New York have established rent control locally.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who has been discussing rent control since her election to council in 2019, cited her own experiences with housing as the impetus for the hearing, and how many Philadelphians are struggling finding suitable housing.

“Philadelphians need support right now,” Brooks said. “We need to begin this conversation and move forward today.”

Rasheeda Phillips, the Director of Housing at Policy Link, provided testimony to the difficulty Philadelphians face when affording rent in the city.

“A household with two minimum wage workers in Philadelphia cannot afford the median rent in many of the city’s zip codes,” Phillips said. “The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recent report shows that one minimum wage worker in Philadelphia would need to work 3.4 full-time jobs to afford a two bedroom apartment in (Philadelphia).”

For emphasis, Phillips repeated a Philadelphian making the minimum wage would need to work 3.4 full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia.

Disputing concerns that rent control legislation would hinder a landlord’s ability to make needed repairs to their properties, Samuel Stein, Housing Policy Analyst with Community Service Society in New York, said the opposite was likely true.

“Rent-stabilized landlords seem to be more likely to invest in improvements than market-rate landlords,” Stein said. “In the New York system, making an improvement to a building on an apartment is one of the few ways a landlord can raise rents beyond the guidelines.”

Thomas Calls for Commerce Hearing

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas introduced a resolution authorizing the Committee on Labor and Civil Service to hold a hearing “examining the economic burden of the unregulated business economy on the City of Philadelphia.”

The resolution defines the unregulated business economy as “work in the city of Philadelphia that is not completed through formal and taxable means.”

In 2018, a task force housed by the Department of Licenses and Inspections was formed to analyze the underground economy, but it has since been shuttered.

One of the key issues related to the underground economy is the exploitation of workers, many of whom are undocumented or misclassified, so they do not pay income tax to the city of Philadelphia. Through this manipulation, underground workers do not pay into federal social welfare programs via payroll tax.

Jones Seeks Preemption Exemption

Councilmember Curtis Jones introduced a resolution “calling on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to temporarily suspend firearm preemption for cities of the first class to allow Philadelphia to enforce measures that will reduce gun violence.”

To put it in simple terms, preemption is when a state law supersedes a local law. This issue has been particularly difficult in Philadelphia regarding gun laws.

The resolution provides the city’s current gun violence statistics: To date, there have been 92 fatal acts of gun violence. In 2022, there were 514 gun violence fatalities and 1791 gun injuries. 2021 was the city’s deadliest year on record, with 562 gun violence fatalities. 

Council Overturns Mayoral Veto

In a rare series of events, City Council overturned Mayor Jim Kenney’s veto of Bill No. 230106, which would allow voters via ballot referendum to change the city charter to create the position of Chief Public Safety Director.

The position, if approved by the voters, would help facilitate coordination between various city agencies, including the police department and District Attorney.

The process of overriding a mayoral veto is surprisingly simple. When City Council receives the vetoed bill back from the mayor’s office, they can take a new vote to override the veto. If two-thirds of council votes ‘aye,’ the legislation is made law. In this case, all 15 members of council voted to overturn the veto.

Interestingly, Philadelphia’s mayor does not have a “pocket veto,” or the ability to withhold their signature to veto legislation. In Philadelphia, if a mayor does not sign a bill, it becomes law after ten days. The only exception to this is the end of council’s four-year term, when any remaining legislation that has not been passed is removed from the calendar, meaning the new council comes into being with no pending legislation.

Legislation Passed By Council

Resolution No. 230215

Also naming South 22nd Street, between Market Street and Chestnut Street, “Pat Eiding Way,” to honor Patrick J. Eiding for his service as President of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO and his accomplishments on behalf of Philadelphia workers. Click here to learn more.

Resolution No. 230216

Urging the Pennsylvania General Assembly to act on Governor Shapiro’s call, in his 2023 budget address, to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 and to deliver a living wage for workers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Click here to learn more.

Resolution No. 230218

Renaming the 2800 block of North 22nd Street to “Willie Seward Way”, to recognize, honor, and celebrate the life and legacy of Willie Seward for his dedication to the City of Philadelphia. Click here to learn more.

Bill No. 230079

Constituting the Twenty-Seventh Supplemental Ordinance to the Restated General Water and Wastewater Revenue Bond Ordinance of 1989, as supplemented; authorizing the Bond Committee to issue and sell one or more series or subseries of tax-exempt or taxable water and wastewater revenue bonds and revenue refunding bonds; authorizing agreements to provide credit enhancement or payment or liquidity sources (or any combination of the foregoing) for such Bonds; providing that such Bonds shall bear interest at fixed or variable rates; determining the sufficiency of pledged Project Revenues; authorizing the Director of Finance to take certain actions with regard to the sale of such Bonds, the investment of proceeds thereof and the City’s continuing disclosure obligations with respect to such Bonds; setting forth the use of proceeds of such Bonds; covenanting the payment of interest and principal; supplementing the Restated General Water and Wastewater Revenue Bond Ordinance of 1989; and specifyi…Click here to learn more.

Bill No. 230104

Approving the amendment of the Fiscal Year 2023 Capital Budget providing for expenditures for the capital purposes of the Philadelphia Gas Works, including the supplying of funds in connection therewith, and acknowledging the receipt of the Revised Forecast of Capital Budgets for Fiscal Years 2024 through 2028, as amended, all under certain terms and conditions. Click here to learn more.

Bill No. 230105

Authorizing the extension of the program authorized by Bill No. 181043 under which advance approval is given to the Philadelphia Facilities Management Corporation to enter into certain contracts and transactions arising thereunder for the purchase, storage, distribution, transportation and/or transmission of natural and other gas supply on behalf of the Philadelphia Gas Works, subject to certain terms and conditions. Click here to learn more.

Bill No. 220914

Renaming and designating the property commonly referred to as the Hillside Recreation Center, located at 201 Fountain Street, as the “Lonnie Cohen Recreation Center” in the City of Philadelphia. Click here to learn more.

Bill No. 220972

Amending an Ordinance (Bill No. 877), approved September 16, 1994, by amending an exhibit thereto, in order to increase the limit of the amount of funding any entity may receive in any fiscal year from the Philadelphia Activities Fund. Click here to learn more.

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