Tony Williams, Milton Street exchange barbs at PCCA affordable-housing mayoral forum

 Seven candidates took the stage at Tuesday morning's 'future of affordable housing' mayoral forum. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Seven candidates took the stage at Tuesday morning's 'future of affordable housing' mayoral forum. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

For much of Tuesday morning’s “Future of Affordable Housing” mayoral forum at the Crystal Tea Room, the seven candidates remained on talking points when discussing homelessness, real estate tax reform and, among other topics, neighborhood development.

Near the end of the two-hour $100/breakfast-plate event sponsored by the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA) — mayoral aspirants answered the same 10 questions — a pair of candidates came to verbal blows.

A heated moment

The backdrop was a discussion about vacant properties and homelessness, specifically how to go about fixing both issues.

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In doing so, one candidate (Milton Street) called another (Anthony Hardy Williams) a liar before the latter (Williams) responded by shushing the former (Street) as moderator Rosemary Connors of NBC10 tried to restore order to what had been “a very pleasant” event.

Got all that?

While the two appeared to make amends when the forum ended minutes later, each side weighed in on the raised-voice conflagration (brief video) when NinetyNine asked about it afterwards.

Let’s start with Street’s version of events.

“We were talking about walk-in homesteaders and back in the early 1980s, we did that with 300 to 400 people,” he said of an action akin to property squatting.

“As a result, we had 300 new homeowners. Well, [Williams] downplayed it. He said it didn’t work,” Street continued. “Well, it did work for 300 families. So I said, ‘Don’t lie and say it didn’t work. Don’t lie to the people. Tell the truth! I can deal with the truth, but don’t lie!'”

As Williams’ spokesman Al Butler saw it, Street made his pitch for moving homeless people into vacant properties and candidate Nelson Diaz — who sat between the two by random draw — said it’s not feasible to do so without due process.

Then, it was Williams’ turn on the microphone.

“The senator says that ‘I agree with my friend Judge Diaz about there having to be due process’ because, in the past when this happened, the people who were put into these homes were the ones who got penalized, the ones who got sued,” Butler said. “He didn’t mention [Street] by name; he only said that that plan doesn’t work.

“When [Williams] attempted to share his plan, that’s when Milton started yelling, ‘Tell the truth. Tell the truth.’ When he shared his plan, he received applause for it.”

And what Williams’ plan?

“What we need to do is connect the name and give public notice, we can do that right now, introduce a bill right now — public notice — that says if you don’t come get your property, don’t provide who you are and where you live, if we can’t reach you, then we are going to take your property,” Williams said. “Expedite fire sales right now, and allow people who want to use those houses most effectively to come online. We can do it legally and protect everyone’s rights in the process.”

Other highlights

While that dust-up stood out as a memorable moment on the campaign trail, the other candidates offered up some noteworthy comments. They were:

Lynne Abraham: “Affordable housing and addressing homelessness should be at the core of anyone’s administration. … Having thousands of people waiting for housing is unacceptable.”

Melissa Murray Bailey: “Housing is a necessity, not a privilege. We need to do everything we can to make sure” everyone has shelter.

Nelson Diaz: “The waiting list [for public housing] has risen from 7 years to 10 years. Until we start building or converting properties into public housing, that’s not going to change.”

Jim Kenney: “We are looking into the legality of expanding the Zoning Board” to help reduce the time that people must wait to get a hearing. “We’ll have something for you about that at a later date.”

Doug Oliver: “The most affordable housing is the homes that people already own. We need to find a way to keep people in the homes they’ve already” bought or mortgaged.


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