June 21, 2022
Happy Tuesday! We hope you're feeling good after the long weekend.
- Partly sunny skies with a high of 82. Showers possible after 5pm, per NWS.
🚨 Situational awareness: Federal officials are helping investigate a building collapse that killed Fire Department Lt. Sean Williamson and injured four firefighters and a city worker on Saturday.
- Williamson's funeral will be held Monday at 11am at Epiphany of Our Lord Church.
Today's newsletter is 913 words, a 3.5-minute read.
1 big thing: Mediating evictions, nearly 2 years in
Right after Mafieyah Robinson moved into her apartment in Roxborough in November, she experienced a domino effect of bad luck.
- First, she lost her job as a home health aide. Then she lost her roommate — all while pregnant.
- She was backed up on a few months of rent by the time her landlord asked her to undergo Philadelphia's eviction diversion process.
Flash forward: One month after going through the program, Robinson is back on her feet and keeping up with her repayment plan with no eviction filing on her record.
- "I am well on my way," she told Axios.
State of play: Philadelphia's eviction diversion program requires that landlords participate in a mediation-based process with tenants before filing an eviction.
Why it matters: Filings can harm a tenant's credit and make finding a future residence difficult.
- Evictions disproportionately impact Black women in Philadelphia, which mirrors national trends, according to research from Community Legal Services.
- On a national level, Black Americans make up 20% of renters — yet they account for one-third of those who receive eviction filings, according to Carl Gershenson of The Eviction Lab.
By the numbers: Since the city's eviction diversion initiative launched in September 2020, 4,056 pairs of landlords and tenants have gone through the program.
- Until January of this year, more than 90% of those pairs either reached an agreement or continued to negotiate as rental assistance was in limbo, according to the city.
- Philadelphia's eviction filings have crept to 75% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Gershenson.
Yes, but: When the eviction diversion program was extended until the end of 2022, it came with some changes — like being a requirement for all evictions, not just those with a COVID-19 hardship.
- Sources who've worked with the program tell Axios wait times and "graceful exits" have increased recently. Such "exits" occur when the tenant is so far in arrears that the landlord and tenant both agree the tenant should leave and the landlord doesn't go after the money.
Mary Harper, a housing counselor with the Urban League, tells Axios that the majority of her tenants go the "graceful exit" route. She said she's seen several owe anywhere from $13,000 to $15,000.
- Andre Del Valle, of landlord lobbying group Pennsylvania Apartment Association, tells Axios he wouldn't support extending the program another year under its current conditions.
Still, many landlords see the program's value.
- "I like it because you're not in court, which can be intimidating," said Kyle Hong Ping, a landlord who's gone through the program more than 50 times.
2. Plus: Behind Philly's Black homeownership rate
Philadelphia has the highest Black homeownership rate among large cities with 350,000 or more people, according to an Axios analysis of census data.
Here are some of the reasons why, according to Ira Goldstein, the president of policy solutions at the Reinvestment Fund:
- Philadelphia historically has had a fairly affordable housing market compared to other large cities, particularly for first-time homeowners.
- In addition, the city is known for using the federal Community Reinvestment Act to encourage banks to provide mortgages for people who live in moderate- and low-income neighborhoods.
Don't forget: Philadelphia also has initiatives to sustain homeownership, such as the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, which requires homeowners and mortgage companies to go through mediation to work out an agreement before a judgment moves forward.
- Of note: This program is what the eviction diversion initiative is based on.
Yes, but: Black homeownership in the city has been falling for 30 years — due in part to sliding household incomes and rising home prices.
3. Philly starts to open pools
Philly will begin to open outdoor public pools on a rolling basis today, while at least a dozen will remain closed for a second consecutive year due to the city's lifeguard shortage.
Driving the news: 50 Philly pools — about 80% of the 63 available — are on track to open by July 15 at the latest.
- Pools with later start dates will remain open longer in the season, according to city officials.
Why it matters: Pools offer a respite from the heat and give youngsters a safe place to go at a time when gun violence — already hovering at historic highs — typically increases.
The latest: Approximately 290 lifeguards signed up by this month’s deadline, according to the Parks and Recreation Department.
- The majority of pools opening this summer are located in low-income communities, where annual household incomes are $45,000 or less, according to the city.
What to watch: The first pools to open for the season today are Fishtown Recreation Center, Mill Creek Playground and Samuel Recreation Center.
- On Wednesday, pools will open at Barry Playground, Lawncrest Recreation Center and Penrose Playground.
4. News Market
🏗️ Construction has begun on a new $20 million recreation center in Grays Ferry. (Billy Penn)
🚒 Firefighters are battling a wildfire at Wharton State Forest in southern New Jersey that's grown to about 12,000 acres, as of Monday. (CNN)
🌆 Mayor Jim Kenney talks challenges, accomplishments and his future as his second and final term's end nears. (City & State Pennsylvania)
Fresh job openings around town
5. 🌷 Pic du jour: Farewell, Flower Show
👋 Mike here! I strolled through the Philadelphia Flower Show during the event's final weekend.
My take: The show should be held outside every year. What better way to take in the sights than under blue skies?
✂️ Mike is spending far too much time trimming his overgrown holly bushes.
🏘 Taylor is proud of all of her amazing colleagues' work on Axios Hard Truths' latest project, Race and Housing: The Path Forward.
Got a minute? Listen to the Axios Today podcast episode on Philly's eviction program.