Before City Council adjourned for the summer, hopes were high that after more than a year of COVID-required safety restrictions, the process of crafting laws would look a bit more normal in the fall. In June, President Joe Biden declared a “summer of freedom,” but instead we got the summer of the delta variant — and on Friday, Council will open another session virtually.
Ahead of the nearly three-month break, we asked all 17 members of Council about their priorities for the fall session. As Council returns, we’re looking back to the list in the hope that members have done their homework over the summer and are ready to hit the ground running.
Some of the proposals build on work done in the spring, including Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’ Driving Equality Bill, which we hope Council approves and Mayor Jim Kenney signs into law early this fall.
Also in progress: Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Jamie Gauthier introduced a bill last session to strengthen incentives for residential developers to build more affordable units or step up their contributions to the Housing Trust Fund. Some groups have raised concerns that the measure would lead to fewer payments into the Housing Trust Fund. This board supports the mission of the bill and hopes it will be discussed and tweaked to have the maximum impact.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke said in June that he will be working on the implementation of the Neighborhood Preservative Initiative, a $400 million investment in housing and poverty. On Wednesday, Clarke and other members of Council outlined the scope of the initial investments, which will be introduced as bills at Friday’s Council meeting.
On top of nearly $180 million in affordable housing production and preservation, the plan proposes critical investments: $38 million for the city’s Basic Systems Repair Program, $11.4 million for eviction prevention, and $7.6 million to rectify erroneous property deeds, or “tangled titles.”
Looking toward the rest of this legislative session, this board intends to track the launch of the new Citizens Police Oversight Commission spearheaded by Councilmember Curtis Jones, the next steps toward a public bank helmed by Councilmember Derek Green, and the high-level working group to study Philadelphia’s tax structure, all of which have the potential to reshape crucial city institutions.
It is unfortunate that not a single member of Council chose to prioritize overdose deaths. It’s imperative that Council call hearings to explore changes in the demographics of those dying of overdoses (from predominantly white victims to predominantly Black) and the way the city has adapted in response.
There are also critical trust issues between constituents and city institutions — such as between the school community and the School District and school board — that have been exacerbated during the pandemic, which Council could ameliorate by finding ways to navigate and, hopefully, reduce.
As the city awaits the first gavel bang of the fall legislative session, many City Council members are well-positioned to deliver on the priorities they outlined in June. If they do — and if they are nimble in addressing new challenges that will inevitably arise — Philadelphia will be on a strong path forward.