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City Council wants the next budget to fix ‘black hole’ created by quality-of-life problems, from trash to broken streetlights

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said quality-of-life issues are hitting neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence the hardest.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (center) holds a press conference against a backdrop of a dumping site in West Philadelphia on Thursday.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (center) holds a press conference against a backdrop of a dumping site in West Philadelphia on Thursday.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

It might be easier to name a basic city service that hasn’t suffered during the pandemic.

Philadelphia has been besieged with trash pickup delays due to worker shortages. Streetlight outages spread a blanket of darkness across the city after officials allowed a maintenance contract to lapse. Illegal dumping, a perennial scourge, has gone largely unpunished. Even the city’s 311 system — residents’ direct line to City Hall — has ailed since March 2020.

Inundated by complaints from her West Philadelphia constituents, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier is now pushing to inject more funding in the city’s next budget to improve basic quality-of-life services, with a focus on neighborhoods beset by violent crime.

“Philadelphia at a very basic level has to be able to provide high quality city services to every neighborhood and every citizen, but particularly to those neighborhoods that have been struggling,” Gauthier said.

» READ MORE: Mayor Jim Kenney’s no-surprises budget leaves Council with decisions on taxes, police spending, and federal aid

Alongside allied Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Helen Gym, the freshman lawmaker on Thursday launched a campaign called “Just Services PHL” in hopes of pushing Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to increase funding for city services in the next budget. Kenney presented his $5.6 billion budget plan to Council last month — including modest boosts to education and antiviolence initiatives. Lawmakers have until June to negotiate amendments and haggle over departmental financing.

Gauthier said bread-and-butter city services are one of the few areas where the administration can maintain some relative control.

The campaign seeks an additional $500,000 to inspectors for the Department of Licenses and Inspections and other city offices to tackle blighted properties, as well as push for more effective personnel assignments to address the most pervasive eyesores on the streets, from abandoned cars to rampant litter.

Some solutions might be found without money, Gauthier said, but with better resource allocation. She pointed to the backlog of broken streetlights that began festering last year and has continued to present a game of catch-up for the Streets Department.

» READ MORE: Broken streetlight complaints in Philly triple due to botched city contract

“It’s a situation where we either need to hire the staff who can do it, or have a bigger pool of companies to choose from, so we’re not left in a lurch where we don’t have lights, particularly in areas where we’re struggling with gun violence,” said Gauthier.

Many of the quality-of-life issues that have gone unchecked are hitting areas impacted by gun crime the hardest. According to an analysis of 311 data by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s office, the majority of quality-of-life grievances stem from the 14 zip codes with the highest levels of gun violence, including 45% of trash pickup complaints, 57% of abandoned vehicle complaints, and 68% of vacant property complaints.

Illegal dumping in high-crime areas has been a source of constant frustration for residents, despite years-long efforts to crack down on the scourge. But even with a comprehensive surveillance network, just six offenders were arrested last year, according to the online news site Billy Penn. Gauthier’s plan calls for an additional $5.25 million toward illegal dumping enforcement.

The “Just Services” campaign comes amid broader criticism about a decreased responsiveness from the city, with delays plaguing the city’s police dispatch system and 311 service requests alike.

City officials have acknowledged that response times are skyrocketing for certain offenses reported to 311 — and the impact has been evident to some residents. Sheth Jones, a Cedarbrook resident and frequent 311 user, said the system will sometimes “close” his complaints without resolving the problem.

“The response rate and effectiveness of 311 is decreasing,” Jones said. “I’d say maybe half are actually resolved without follow up action taken on my part.”

Gauthier said that, without confidence in the city’s response times, she worries that some residents will stop reporting both crimes and nuisance offenses alike.

“People feel like it’s this black hole,” Gauthier said. “We can take the time to invest in these services during budget time.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at