An Eviction Crisis is Looming
In 2020, Pennsylvania received $150 million from the Cares Act to help its residents who had fallen behind on rent and mortgages, but only $54.4 million of this ear-marked aid made it into the hands of people fighting to keep their homes. The remainder of the funds were used to “fill gaps in the budget for the Department of Corrections” according to Phyllis Chamberlain of the Housing Alliance of PA.
Keeping people in their homes is vital to prevent more unnecessary deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic, yet more than 230,000 Pennsylvania households could face eviction in the coming months. Despite elected officials’ efforts, monetary support and eviction moratoriums can only go so far if housing is not treated and defended as something everyone in our society deserves. The pandemic has shown how important universal housing is to public health, not only to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but also to prevent the deaths of despair that often result from a lack of access to resources, such as housing, food, and mental health care.
Until society comes to think of housing as a human right, we can start treating it like one in our communities. That is why Lilac has been mobilizing with the Rent Control Coalition to fight for tenants’ rights and ensure that everyone has stable housing. Please sign onto this petition in support of rent control.
- Lilac General Meeting: Online on Thursday, January 28th at 6:00 PM. Check the Facebook event for details on how to join.
- Philly Bail Fund Call-a-thons: Every other Wednesday from 6:00 - 7:30 PM. The next one is on Wednesday, January 27th!
- Rent Control Coalition - Power Mapping Training: Wednesday, January 27th at 5:30 PM.
Local News Summaries and Links
- Widespread delays have plagued the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, with setbacks in both the state and federal distribution. At the city level, problems have been compounded by mass confusion over a vaccine registration website that was created by Philly Fighting COVID, a not-for-profit startup. Despite the organization’s claims to be working closely with the city, the health department has denied direct coordination beyond providing doses of the vaccine.
- A federal judge ruled that Philly jails must relax extreme pandemic lockdown measures. Since the start of the pandemic, many of those incarcerated in Philly prisons have reported being locked in their cells for nearly 24 hours a day, placed in solitary confinement, and denied access to mental health and other services. As a result, suicide attempts have doubled and rates of violence have drastically increased across city correctional facilities.
- Chester Hollman III is receiving $9.8 million from Philadelphia after being wrongfully imprisoned for 28 years. His story was investigated by the Innocence Project after a key witness recanted his testimony claiming that he was pressured by police. The Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA’s office took on the case after lobbying from Hollman’s lawyer. This case is only a single example of rampant police corruption during that era.
- Economic assistance is available for some Pennsylvanians after congress expanded eligibility. Households will receive a 15% increase in benefits, and SNAP benefits will no longer be counted as income. The federal relief package also provides $252 million to SEPTA, which will help the agency avoid layoffs. However, the economic situation remains dire, with nearly a million people behind on utility payments and assistance programs being overwhelmed throughout the state.
- The pandemic and simultaneous economic crisis are hitting marginalized communities the hardest. Black and Hispanic workers have fared the worst, with Black men, Black women, and Hispanic women seeing the biggest losses of any groups during the early parts of the pandemic. In terms of coronavirus, Black Philadelphians are almost twice as likely to contract the virus and face worse outcomes if they do. The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, an organization founded by Dr. Ala Stanford in response to these disparities, will be administering vaccines in underserved Black communities.
- Philadelphia is planning its third attempt to reopen schools in the spring, according to the superintendent and mayor. The first attempt failed after strenuous objections from parents, teachers, and principals. Surveys indicate that parents are deeply split on reopening plans. In other news, some Philadelphia cultural institutions reopened to the public after the city eased Covid-19 related restrictions. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have all reopened as of January 21. Eastern State Penitentiary plans to reopen in March, and the Rodin Museum will open its doors later in the spring.
- Philadelphia’s first urban agriculture plan will have an anti-racist lens after a five month facilitation process. The process was spurred on by Soil Generation, a black and brown led coalition of growers, and led by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. The urban agriculture plan, called “Growing from the Root,” will proceed with the announcement of an online platform and a public meeting in February.
- Republican lawmakers are suing the Delaware River Basin Commission in an attempt to overturn a ban on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River basin. The suit challenges the constitutional authority of the commission to implement the ban. This represents the most recent in a series of efforts on the part of the gas industry to undermine the regulations. The suit was filed by state senators Lisa Baker and Gene Yaw. Environmental watchdogs accuse them of betraying “their legislative obligation to serve the people of Pennsylvania.” The Delaware river provides drinking water to an estimated 13 million individuals.
- There are concerns over a number of PA officials’ and law enforcement officers’ involvement in attempts to overturn the results of the election. Seven SEPTA officers are known to have attended the “Save America” rally, and a Philadelphia Detective, Jennifer Gugger of the Recruit Background Investigations Unit of Philly PD, was reassigned after her presence at the rally also became public. State senator Doug Mastriano has faced calls for his resignation after his campaign chartered buses for the rally and he made social media posts about his attendance.
- PA State Senate Republicans refused to seat Democratic State Senator Jim Brewster on June 5th, claiming that a small number of ballots were invalid. Republicans removed Democratic lieutenant governor John Fetterman from presiding over the session when he began blocking Republican motions. Brewster was sworn in on January 13th after the Republicans lost the legal battle.
- PA State Republicans are looking to gerrymander judicial appointments by transitioning to a regional election system. Only 2 states do regional judicial votes nationwide. Democrats currently hold 5 of 7 positions on the PA Supreme Court. This amendment passed in the legislature in July, but it still has to pass in the legislature again and then in a statewide referendum.
- Developers painted over a mural of Gloria Casarez, an influential Latina LGBTQ activist in Philly’s Gayborhood. The NYC developer, Midwood Investment & Development, had been engaging in talks with concerned community members about another way to pay tribute to Casarez. Initially, they announced a partnership with Mural Arts to commission a new mural, but advocates and the community were blindsided by the whitewashing of the mural at the end of December. Midwood apologized only after the incident reached national outlets.
- Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk Sikoun, beloved artist, craftsperson, matriarch, and community organizer has died of Covid-19 at the age of 76. Pang moved to Philadelphia in 1979 with her family, where she became a leader in preserving Hmong culture, art, and traditions. She was recognized as a master of paj ntaub, a traditional Hmong embroidery technique, as well as an expert in culinary traditions, dance, sung poetry, and art. Pang was beloved as “a motivating force behind preserving Hmong traditions and lifeways.” Those wishing to honor Pang’s legacy can contribute to help pay for medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and a memorial that is planned for later in 2021.
- A federal appeals court ruled that a safe injection site proposed by the nonprofit Safehouse would be illegal. The site, which was proposed in 2018, would allow people to bring their own opioids to inject under medical supervision. The ruling cites a 1986 federal law that was intended to penalize the operation of houses where drugs are made or used. Advocates of the site hope that Biden’s Department of Justice will be more sympathetic, although the incoming president was a senate co-sponsor of the aforementioned “crack house” statute.