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Councilmember Jamie Gauthier introduced legislation to combat gentrification and increase housing justice. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier introduced the “Defying Displacement” campaign, a legislative package with the goal to protect Philadelphia homeowners and renters, on Feb. 1.

Gauthier, who represents City Council's third district — which includes University City — introduced new legislation to address the growing affordable housing crisis. If enacted into law, the proposal will strengthen protections for residents using housing vouchers, freeze property taxes for low-income homeowners, and reinvest revenue into neighborhoods.

“Through Defying Displacement, I am going to bat for our neighborhoods, and I will not rest until every Philadelphian can access safe, stable, and affordable housing,” Gauthier said in a City Council meeting. 

Gauthier’s legislation will seek to strengthen the city’s Fair Practice Ordinance, which makes it illegal for property owners and landlords to discriminate against sources of income. However, the ordinance does not explicitly mention the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

Gauthier’s proposed bill would amend the ordinance to prohibit landlords and property managers from refusing to accept vouchers. Moreover, the bill would shorten the delay before renters could file a lawsuit after reporting discrimination to the Human Relations Commission. Gauthier’s legislation would decrease the wait time from one year to 100 days. 

“A lot of these legislations and ordinances already exist but they are not being enforced, well refined, or reflective of the current housing market and the current socioeconomic status of a lot of residents in the city,” School of Design professor Akira Rodriguez told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The housing crisis is a long-emerging issue that has been a constant struggle for the city. Rodriguez expressed optimism about the enforcement of the amended legislation.

“I think better defining the problems to find more targeted solutions is a good way to start,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to unaffordable housing costs, discrimination against renters who pay with housing vouchers is an emerging issue. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that 67% of landlords in Philadelphia refused to accept vouchers. The Housing Choice Voucher Program currently provides rental assistance to over 19,500 low-income families in Philadelphia. 

“If we reinvest in neighborhoods, folks should be able to stay, and we should have people with vouchers be able to move anywhere in the city that they want to live,” City Councilmember Rue Landau told The Philadelphia Inquirer

The third piece of legislation proposed is the raising of the Housing Trust Fund, a source of local revenue funding towards building new affordable homes, preserving existing ones, and homelessness prevention. 

Gauthier criticized how the funding is spent, leading to overscaled projects with no affordable housing benefits. 

“The city essentially cheats our neighborhoods,” Gauthier said.

Her efforts come amidst historically high housing costs coupled with residents’ lower incomes. According to a report by PewCharitableTrust, about 40% of Philadelphia renters were considered cost-burdened when it came to housing payments. Additionally, for about 70% of households with an annual income less than $30,000, more than 50% of their earnings were reportedly spent on housing. 

The financial burden was especially prevalent among minority groups and has begun to push out residents who cannot afford stable housing. 

“Many of our neighborhoods are becoming hostile to the Black and brown communities that have stewarded them for generations. I for one refuse to sit on my hands as gentrification uproots our neighborhoods,” Gauthier said

Gauthier is currently in her second term and has continued her efforts to enforce equitable housing since she took office in January of 2020