Affordable housing, rental assistance and home repairs: Philly progressives are pushing City Council for a ‘worker’s budget’

As City Council negotiates a budget with Mayor Parker, some council members and advocates seek more funding that directly impacts working-class Black and brown Philadelphians.

Shawmar Pitts speaking at a podium

Shawmar Pitts, co-director of Philly Thrive addresses the rally outside of City Hall on May 30, 2024. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

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While Mayor Charelle Parker is negotiating over a budget deal with city leaders, members of City Council’s progressive wing held a rally outside City Hall.

Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke stood under the Council chambers window during the Thursday morning gathering and called for four key things he said should be included in the budget.

“It includes $14 million for affordable housing on the former site of the UC Townhomes, $5 million for Built-to-Last, which is a home repair program that makes Philly homes safer, $50 million in rental assistance, and $2.6 million for the office of worker protections,” he said.

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Nicolas O'Rourke
Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke calls for a worker-friendly budget. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

O’Rourke questioned the current budget, which has not yet been modified from the original proposal Parker delivered to City Council in March.

“We need a budget that makes a difference in our jobs. We need a budget that makes a substantive difference in our homes. So the question is, what does that actually look like?” O’Rourke asked.

Several community groups came to the rally to discuss their hopes for the budget’s priorities.

Rufina Rodriguez, from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, spoke in Spanish and called for more money for the Office of Worker Protection.

“We won a Bill of Rights for domestic workers in 2019, and it became effective in May 2020. Our Bill of Rights is not being respected by employers. And that is why we were fighting for new legislation for all Philadelphians. In Philadelphia, where approximately there are 16,000 domestic workers and not all of them know about their rights, there are still many labor abuses.”

Shawmar Pitts, co-director of Philly Thrive said just a few million dollars for home improvement programs are key to preserving family homes in the city with programs such as Built to Last.

“The only way we’re going to have programs such as Built to Last is that the budget reflects the hardworking people in our city,” Pitts said.

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Councilmember Jamie Gauthier called for funding for public housing, specifically the rebuilding of University City Townhomes, which were demolished when the owners wanted to put more upscale housing in their place. A compromise gave a portion of the property for the construction of affordable residences, but the funding needed to complete the project is not part of Mayor Parker’s first budget proposal, vexing housing advocates.

“We never have to worry about losing them again. That’s what permanent affordability means. That means that there will be no timed federal subsidy and no financial pressure to redevelop, and this is important, because the UC Townhomes were an oasis of affordability in a rapidly gentrifying community,” Gauthier said. “It is also the home of the former Black Bottom, a neighborhood that the city and its university partnership shamefully razed in the 1960s.”

“We fight for the rights of working-class Black and brown Philadelphians to live in neighborhoods of opportunity and by building this new complex,” Gauthier added. “We affirm that working families belong in one of the city’s most desirable and amenity-rich communities in Philadelphia.”

Council is currently negotiating a budget with Mayor Cherelle Parker, and the final spending plan still has not been determined.

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