City Council wants to create a new $10 million street cleaning program

Litter blows on Germantown Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Litter blows on Germantown Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On the first day of City Council’s fall session, Councilmember Cherelle Parker introduced a bill to allocate $10 million to establish a cleaning program that would bring 300 part-time cleaners to commercial corridors across the city.

The initiative is part of Parker’s larger push to champion so-called “middle neighborhoods.” The phrase describes communities where incomes and housing values tend to fall somewhere between affluent Center City and the city’s poorest areas. Parker and others argue that these areas provide a disproportionate amount of Philadelphia’s economic and political stability yet often don’t receive the aid they need to thrive.

“The support that business corridors receive creates a system of haves and have nots, with some remaining clean and well-maintained while others struggle with litter, blight, and storefront maintenance,” Parker said. “We are hoping that if we are able to launch this program citywide, we can counteract the awful narrative that characterizes our beloved city as ‘Filthadelpha.’ ”

The program is modeled after a clean-up initiative Parker started over the summer in her district, which spans communities from the northwest to the northeast, from East Mount Airy to Oxford Circle.

Parker’s effort employs 16 part-time workers earning $15 an hour to clear litter from neighborhood shopping corridors, including Wadsworth, Ogontz, Castor and Rising Sun avenues.

The ongoing 12-month program will cost $575,000, with the bulk of that secured during budget negotiations with the Kenney administration last spring.

With that initiative so far proving successful in her eyes, the Councilmember wants the city to invest $10 million to test a citywide program for one year. If the model works, the program could be funded annually out of the general fund.

Neighborhoods targeted for the program are those that lack the property tax base to support a business improvement district, but also may go without the support of community development corporations, which are traditionally found in lower-income areas. It would be administered by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), according to the bill.

The mega non-profit would administer requests for proposals that neighborhood organizations will compete over.

Parker said Thursday that she envisions two organizations managing the funding in each of Council’s 10 districts. In areas that already have strong BIDs or CDCs, the funds could be used to bolster cleanliness on smaller, less prominent business corridors.

The bills co-sponsors include City Council President Darrell Clarke and Counclmembers Kenyatta Johnson, Allan Domb, and Derek Green. The Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations is supportive as well.

“Cleaning staff not only address litter and blighting conditions like bandit signs, graffiti, and vacant lots, but are also eyes and ears on the street that make it safer,” said PACDC policy director Beth McConnell.

Center City District president Paul Levy said that the idea has merit. But the BID president warned that there have been numerous city-funded street cleaning programs that have failed, usually because of poor management.

“This is a very good idea, it just needs a good strong management structure,” Levy said. “You need good supervision and good clear rules, because what you don’t want is a program with good intentions that underperforms and that people end up thinking is a waste of money.”

In the past year, the Germantown Special Services District fell apart in the face of revenue and management issues that resulted in a revolt by dues-paying property owners. Like many lower-income neighborhoods the organization perennially struggled with revenues, even though its duties were largely focused just on cleaning two neighborhood commercial corridors.

Councilmember Parker is a close ally of Mayor Jim Kenney, and his administration tends to support her initiatives. But it’s unclear at this point what the administration’s stance will be on this specific bill.

“We look forward to continuing to work with City Council on our shared priorities within the constraints of the City’s finances,” Kelly Cofrancisco, a city spokesperson, said in an email.

Issues of street cleaning and litter management have arisen repeatedly across the city as demand increases in the face of rising dissatisfaction with the lack of a citywide street sweeping program. The Kenney administration’s pilot program, thus far, has resulted in teams equipped with leaf blowers trying to dislodge trash without requiring residents to move their cars.

After introducing the legislation, Parker gave a lengthy speech rebutting unnamed critics who apparently criticized her idea for not paying the workers enough.

“When I walked into the building and I was excited about this program, my spirit was filled with a lot of good energy and all of a sudden, somebody said $10 million for 300 part time jobs won’t make a difference in the lives of Philadelphians,” Parker said.

Parker said that at $15 an hour for 25 hours a week, the workers in the program would be making $1,500 a month.

“What I say to those naysayers, until you’ve walked a mile in the shoes of someone who is underemployed, unemployed, or who has never had access to the tools they need in order to survive, don’t you tell me that $1,500 won’t help,” said Parker.

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