courtesy image from author
Although Philadelphians just elected Cherelle Parker as its 100th mayor and the first woman to hold that office, voter apathy continues. Only a dismal 27.5 % of registered voters participated in the election to choose the mayor, a new City Council, row offices and judges. Many feel that their votes don’t matter and that elected officials and institutions have their own agendas – ignoring the needs of the masses. People have been watching, are angry and rightfully cynical about the leadership of the city.
In light of the recent election, community activists and leaders have a lot to say about what is needed from the city’s leaders and philanthropic institutions. The list of concerns include crime, what some see as the injustice system, gentrification and affordable housing, education and economic justice.
“Congratulations to Cherelle Parker on her recent election,” said Anthony Lewis, former chair of the board of the Fair Housing Rights Center of SE Pennsylvania.
“Parker campaigned on a platform that promised more safety, better education and an equal opportunity. The “community” has to hold her to those promises. Too often, we as African Americans assume that because we have elected an African American to office, our needs will be met. We become silent while others are in our elected officials face, making request and demands. By the time we realize that our needs are not being met the resources are committed elsewhere. It’s not that the elected official did not intend to do what he or she campaigned on, but their attention was shifted to the people who were talking to them. Parker must move quickly to layout and execute her plans for the city. I expect her honeymoon will be short, given her sex and race. They’re always given a shorter time to clean things up.”
NAACP Philadelphia Branch President Catherine Hicks thinks the focus should be on addressing systemic inequality and reducing disparities in education, employment, housing and healthcare.
“Our communities need strong leadership and support from our leaders and institutions. Prioritizing public safety and criminal justice throughout the city, especially in Kensington, and creating a fair and equitable criminal justice system while continuing to invest in community violence prevention programs is most important. We need advocates for reforms that promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism.”
From our Partners
“Our leaders also need to focus on environmentally sustainable practices and ensure that development plans are inclusive and considerate to all residents,” said Hicks. “This includes jobs, affordable housing, transportation and green infrastructure projects. We need leaders and institutions committed to promoting equity, generational and economic wealth that will lead to stronger, resilient neighborhoods.”
Yumy Odom, founder/director of the Frator Heru Institute is concerned about the defunding of community institutions and programs.
“As one of the first graduate students of Temple University’s African American Studies Department in 1988, my focus was on North-Central Philly and the resources at Temple University, which provided community anchors and were a great source of inspiration and hope,” Odom recalled. “In the community there was Freedom Theater, Blue Horizon, African American United Fund, Black Doll Museum, Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation, and more. On campus there was African American Studies, Blockson Collection, African American Research Center, a Black faculty and staff organization, and PASCEP, of which I was director. Over the past 20 years, it has become infinitely worse with the under-funding or elimination of many of these institutions and programs which has led up to this current abysmal local philanthropic and social impact landscape. Our communities need leadership with a vision, not the continued lip service I have heard and seen played out for 35 years with the exception of a few. The absence of community-based institutions and organizations that serve as community anchors and effective leadership that inspires has traumatized many in these communities.”
Respect from the city’s leaders and institutions is foremost in the mind of Jacqueline Wiggins, an educator and community activist who is one of the leaders of the Stadium Stompers that organized to successfully stop Temple University’s ill-fated football stadium. “First, respect in the form of genuinely listening to what the people are demanding of them but receive very little consideration is needed.”
Like many others, Wiggins is concerned about gentrification and the rising cost of housing. Many residents feel their elected officials are in the pockets of the developers that fund their campaigns. According to the PEW 2023 State of the City, 48.9% of renters in Philadelphia spent 30% or more of their income on rent and utilities. In 2021, Philadelphia ranked slightly above the national average for the median cost of a two-bedroom apartment. The report stated that the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia rose 9.5% since 2019.
“Throughout much of the primary season, I heard very little from candidates about rent control and stabilization,” Wiggins explained. “It is a highly charged issue for those who rent, have families and may be living in gentrifying areas where new or rehabbed structures have very high real estate values or high rent increases. Elders on fixed incomes continue to face rent and property tax increases. Our communities need relief in the form of new housing packaging, homeowner and rental, that’s reasonable and affordable. We also need better protection from developers who are causing much of this housing turmoil.”
A well-respected housing activist/advocate who led the now-defunct Housing Association of the Delaware Valley for 35 years, Lewis has experienced Philadelphia’s slow transition from a working-class city to the rapidly gentrifying city that it is today.
“Philadelphia is still dubbed the “poorest big city” in America, with nearly a half million of its citizens living in poverty, an affordable housing crisis exacerbated by thousands of higher income wage earners flooding the city from New York, causing everything to increase in price, and a growing homeless population. Philadelphia, which a decade ago was considered one of the most affordable cities, has seen basic housing costs triple, with an average cost for a one bedroom apartment ranging from $1,800 – $2,100 a month.”
Lewis would also like to see a revision of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
“Philadelphia had a class and a culture in its buildings and design,” he stated. “There was an order about what could be built and where. The Michael Nutter Administration, backed by New Yorkers, implemented the policy of “let anybody, build anything, anywhere.” Today, communities are landscapes of mismatched structures and the sense of order is no more. Pressure must be placed on City Council to step up to the plate when it comes to supporting poor communities and working families. It has been Council that shepherded billions into the hands of wealthy developers. They must have the fortitude to do what’s right and not be bamboozled by those investors with the money power threatening to pull out if things don’t continue to go their way. Some of the proposals Parker will make will not be liked by those working to make Philly into New York’s 6th borough or those on the far left. We must call for more opportunities for local residents and reinvestment in neighborhoods. We must stand by the mayor-elect and back her in these efforts.”
Who needs to be part of these solutions?
What is the best way for intergovernmental collaboration with private sector, faith-based, and Philanthropic partners?
What vision do you have for Philadelphia?-30-
From our Partners