Next Thursday will be the first session of a new City Council that includes four new members. During last year’s campaign, candidates took bold positions and made broad promises. Now, they get time to focus on what they were elected to do: legislate.
At the end of last summer, the Editorial Board asked all City Council members about their priorities for fall. We wanted to get a sense about what we can and should expect from Council before the new year. At the end of the session, we reviewed the list of priorities and were impressed with how many ideas actually became bills and initiatives — so we decided to do this exercise again. We asked very specific questions; some provided specific answers, some gave an excerpt of a stump speech. Their responses are printed here, edited for clarity and length. The Inquirer Editorial Board will check back in the summer to measure these goals against reality.
Mark Squilla: Airbnb regulations
District 1, Democrat
“I plan to introduce legislation to regulate short-term property rentals (Airbnbs) that would modify the zoning code to expand the definition of limited lodging, require licenses, and make owners accountable for compliance with neighborhood concerns (quiet time, sanitation pick up, etc.). As Philadelphia becomes a popular tourist destination, our office has received complaints from residents regarding properties often rented through websites for weekends (party houses).
"We are also considering legislation to mitigate traffic congestion in Center City.”
Kenyatta Johnson: Property tax relief
District 2, Democrat
“I will continue the fight for property tax relief for all Philadelphians, including expansions of the Homestead Exemption and the Longtime Owner-Occupants Program (LOOP). Philadelphians need tax relief because spikes in property assessments have supersized tax bills in many neighborhoods. Yet working families aren’t getting pay raises and most seniors are on fixed incomes. Too many homeowners have to choose between paying tax bills and paying for groceries or medication.
“We know that Homestead and LOOP work. They have high participation rates and help families all across the city."
Jamie Gauthier: Gentrification control
District 3, Democrat
“My number one priority is to fight for equitable communities. The neighborhoods in my district are changing at a breakneck pace; as a result of gentrification, we are seeing a significant loss of affordable housing units, which in turn leads to displacement. Key parts of this effort will include a community-driven rezoning process, expansion of renter protections, and a renewed look at inclusionary zoning.”
Curtis Jones Jr.: Lease-to-purchase options
District 4, Democrat
"I intend to introduce and pass legislation that will create a legitimate lease-to-purchase process for certain city-owned properties. My staff and I have done extensive research into best practices in other municipalities, such as Cleveland, Ohio’s model, and I believe this will move our city forward on our affordable housing issues.
“The home ownership rate in Philadelphia is around 50%, largely because our housing stock isn’t affordable, and many of our citizens cannot accumulate the savings necessary for a down payment. I believe a lease-to-purchase program, using vacant property that the city already owns, will provide a first rung on the affordable housing ladder to home ownership, and has the potential to prevent many neighborhoods from becoming completely gentrified.”
Darrell L. Clarke: First-time home buyer grants
District 5, Democrat
“My office will focus on actions to begin lifting 100,000 people out of poverty and create more affordable housing. Philly First Home, created by Council, awards grants to income-eligible first-time homebuyers to help with down payments and closing costs. In six months, this program has awarded $8.7 million in grants and helped over 1,000 Philadelphians buy their first homes. Those homebuyers returned $5.3 million to the city budget in real estate transfer taxes. Our office will seek more funding during the budget to support this program.
“In the last two years, we’ve eliminated a backlog of 5,000 cases for homeowners seeking Basic Systems Repair grants for existing homes. Proceeds from a $100 million bond issue, financed by a 1/10th of 1 percent increase in the real estate transfer tax, were used. This spring during the budget, we will seek funding to keep the backlog down."
Bobby Henon: Paid medical family leave
District 6, Democrat
"I will pursue paid medical family leave. With the federal government enacting 12 weeks of paid leave, I would like to enact it in Philadelphia for both City of Philadelphia employees as well as in the private sector. This legislation will allow parents who have just had a child, are adopting a child, or fostering a child to take the necessary time off to care for themselves and their children. This would also extend to parental end of life and hospice care.
“I will also prioritize introducing a charter change that would make the Office of Labor and Consumer Affairs permanent and enable them to better regulate and oversee legislation that has been or will be introduced to protect our workers.”
Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: Poverty action plan
District 7, Democrat
"I cochair Council’s Committee on Poverty Reduction & Prevention, which will kick off the session with the release of a Poverty Action Plan developed by more than 100 leaders, experts, and practitioners through public hearings and research of national best practices. The Action Plan will overhaul the City’s incremental approach through bold safety net, workforce, education, and housing strategies.
“This year, I will also advance City Council’s business tax reform by proposing the reduction, if not elimination of, the net profits portion of the business income and receipts tax. We need to stimulate job growth by reducing the burden on businesses and streamlining our regulatory bureaucracy. I began the fight for equitable and progressive business taxation in 2014 with a $100,000 small business exemption and the single sales factor for our manufacturing sector, saving jobs and helping with growth. I look forward to building on our momentum.”
Cindy Bass: Environmental toxin ban
District 8, Democrat
"On Jan. 23, 2020, in my role as Chair of Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, I will introduce legislation to reduce the exposure of our citizens to environmental toxins. This legislation, developed in partnership with Toxic Free Philly — a coalition of concerned Philadelphians — will prohibit the use of glyphosate and all other synthetic pesticides (i.e. Roundup) on all public grounds, including Philadelphia public schools, parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and recreation centers. This legislation is a continuation of Councilperson Bass’ commitment to creating healthy and clean environments, particularly in underserved communities which have been plagued by these issues as well as chronic trash dumping.
“More than 100 United States cities have already banned the use of glyphosate and other toxic pesticides. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sustained exposure may cause cancer. This legislation will create a safe and healthy environment for residents and wildlife alike.”
Cherelle Parker: ‘Good actor’ employers
District 9, Democrat
"My immediate focus will be introducing legislation to incentivize employers to be ‘good actors’ in a variety of industries. Being a ‘good actor’ means 1) businesses treat their employees well in terms of providing a living wage as well as providing access to quality benefits, including health care and retirement security, and 2) they are responsible community actors, with a special emphasis on ensuring they are not contributing to neighborhood trash and blight.
“Additionally, before budget season gets fully underway, as Chair of the Committee on Labor and Civil Service, I plan to hold multiple hearings that focus on specific City departments and offices, with the goal of ensuring that these departments are adequately funded to guarantee the safety and well-being of our employees. My goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to be both pro-business and pro-worker.”
Brian O’Neill: Quality of life
District 10, Republican
“I will continue to introduce legislation dealing with various quality-of-life issues impacting the residents of my district on issues such as zoning, traffic, and parking.
“I also plan to explore legislation dealing with all aspects of cybersecurity as it relates to the City of Philadelphia and examine the City’s paper-related costs and paperless alternatives.”
Kendra Brooks: Rent control
“Our priority is to attack systemic poverty, including by investing in neighborhoods and tackling housing insecurity. The issue I heard across every neighborhood on the campaign was concern about rising rent and housing prices. I look forward to starting a dialogue with stakeholders about what a rent control policy in Philadelphia could look like.”
Allan Domb: Wage tax refund
"In an effort to move the needle on the city’s stagnant 25 percent poverty rate, I will reintroduce the bill (killed by the mayor’s pocket veto) to help the 150,000 Philadelphians living in poverty. This legislation would expand the current Wage Tax Refund rate from half a percent to the full 2.3 percent. A family of four earning an income of $34,250 would receive about $810 annually. A single adult earning about the same income with three children would receive about $880 annually. Both of these amounts have the ability to increase significantly in the future, depending on the status of the PICA portion of the revenues.
“Philadelphia should not be the largest city taxing its poor higher than every other city in the country. The city’s current Wage Tax rate is the second-highest among the top 25 largest cities, only slightly behind New York City. The refund would provide immediate assistance for those who qualify and provide money to pay bills, buy groceries and even start a savings plan.”
Katherine Gilmore Richardson: Civil service preference for students
"I am working to create a civil service preference for all students graduating from Philadelphia-based career and technical education (CTE) schools for city employment. Students who gain workplace skills from these city schools should be given a leg up in the application process for city employment, as a return on investment. Investing in workforce development will be critical to decreasing poverty in our City. It’s also central to City Council and the business community’s shared goal to reduce poverty and ensure we develop and support a globally competitive workforce.
“I am also releasing a resolution calling for budget hearings around the City’s readiness for an economic recession, which will foster a conversation about our budget stabilization funds.”
» READ MORE: How Philly is using city jobs to tackle poverty
Derek S. Green: Public bank
“I hope to pass legislation creating a public bank for the City of Philadelphia. This bank will be a public entity that facilitates loans to small businesses and non-wealthy residents, filling gaps created by federal regulations and corporate profit-motive. In addition to these structural barriers, there is documented discrimination against black, brown, women, LGBTQ, and other minority entrepreneurs by this industry. This lending environment leaves small businesses and many residents scrambling to obtain patient capital at reasonable interest rates, despite steady profits or solid credit. It also leaves Philadelphia too dependent on financing from outside our region. A public bank can move into this financing space to generate local wealth and income and reduce our high rate of poverty.
“A public bank matters as our city government continues to address systemic poverty. Many communities have insufficient quantity and quality of jobs, and the limited access to capital keeps these neighborhoods impoverished. A public bank will push against that dynamic by harnessing the potential of our existing small businesses that are poised for growth but cannot find capital on terms that will enable them to succeed.”
Helen Gym: Safe school facilities
“My central priority is making sure every Philadelphia public school student has a safe and healthy place to learn. The past year has made absolutely clear that, no matter the challenges, we need a comprehensive approach to fix our school facilities conditions. I’m championing a major investment in school modernization and construction to not only fix the disastrous conditions of our schools but to also put us on a path to the 21st Century School — one that lifts up our neighborhoods and our youth.
“In addition to funding, this means considering vehicles like a school construction authority as a way to provide oversight and to ensure safety protocols and steady completion. I’ll continue legislating stricter environmental standards for schools, as we have done with lead and water testing laws, to further address hazards like asbestos and mold. The majority of Philadelphia children attend a District public school. We can’t afford to keep playing catch up on the health and safety of buildings in which they spend the major part of their day."
David Oh: Property assessment reform
"I hope to pass legislation to protect homeowners from inaccurate property assessments that have led to dramatically higher property taxes in 2019. As a result of these improper tax increases, many homeowners, especially those on fixed-incomes, are struggling to remain in their homes. The bill would automatically replace a current year’s property assessments with the previous year’s assessments if the current year’s assessments are found by a third-party audit to not meet industry standards for accuracy. Such a situation occurred in 2019, when the citywide assessment resulted in a median market value increase of 10.5% for single-family homes. If enacted, the bill would reject 2019’s inaccurate property assessments and taxes.
“Independent audits by both City Council and the Office of the City Controller confirmed that the valuation process is flawed and in need of reform. The city’s failure to meet industry standards and be transparent about its property assessment methodology not only betrays the public trust but puts residents, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, at risk of losing their homes.”
Isaiah Thomas: Out-of-school programs
"Using capital projects and the operating budget, I plan on extending recreation center hours and providing more City-sponsored OST [out-of-school time] programs — specifically targeting neighborhoods that have experienced disproportionate increases in gun violence. When young people are in school and at home, they have direction and supervision and support; we have a responsibility to care for our children 24/7. The budget process and every piece of legislation I introduce will have young people and underserved communities in mind as key stakeholders.
"We must evaluate the OST (out-of-school time) to make sure that our young people are thriving, supported and safe. By properly funding recreation centers to extend hours and update amenities, our children will have supervision and the opportunities to find their passions.”