City Council advances measures to promote racial equity, protect renters

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council announced last week with great fanfare that it is creating a new program for racial equity with $25 million the city had set aside in case of a recession. They call it the "New Normal" budget.

Council President Darrell Clarke said the money will be used to bolster the city's effort in six areas: access to health care, fresh food, affordable housing, education, poverty reduction and police accountability. He said more specifics would be coming.

"This is just a start, or somebody might call it a down payment, whatever you want to call it. We have to talk in meaningful ways," he said.

Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sanchez said the action was inspired by disparities unveiled both by the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest of the last week.

"We are not going to waste this crisis and not do the right thing by the citizens of Philadelphia, for all citizens of Philadelphia but (especially) for the most vulnerable," she declared.

The "New Normal" funding was announced the same day that a council committee addressed six bills to protect renters from eviction. They include a 60-day extension of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium, a one year repayment period and waiver of late fees for those who fell behind, creation of an eviction diversion program, and a freeze on rent increases for the next year.

Victoria Lambert, who lost her job as a waitress when the city issued a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, testified at that hearing. 

She said she immediately wrote her landlord to say she was worried about being able to make her rent. The response was a form letter from an attorney, notifying her she would be evicted.

"It was a notice to vacate letter," Lambert recounted. "And when the courts open, they're going to push forward with evicting me."

The rent freeze didn't make it out of committee, but the other five renters' protection bills were passed, and advanced to the full Council.