Philly City Council committee tables bill to subsidize lead remediation costs for landlords

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia City Council committee punted on a proposal to dole out property tax credits to landlords who remediate lead in their units when complying with a new Philadelphia mandate.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a Democrat who heads the council’s finance committee, held a draft bill on Tuesday that would have subsidized 100% of the costs landlords incur when removing lead from their units and ensuring they’re lead-safe.

The delay effectively kills the proposal for this council’s term. The hearing was the last opportunity to advance the bill out of committee with enough time to allow two readings in front of the full City Council before the final session of this council’s term on Dec. 12.

All bills unmoved before the end of the year die. In January, a new City Council will be sworn in and the new council members can decide whether to revive the bill.

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The delay won the blessing of the proposal’s main sponsor, at-large Councilman David Oh, a Republican.

After the committee hearing in City Hall on Tuesday, Oh said industry experts were not immediately available to testify and provide costs associated with the subsidy and how it might affect affordable housing, among other things.

Oh, who won re-election to another four-year term in November, said he intended to reintroduce the legislation in January. He did not have an estimate for how much the subsidy could cost the city in property tax revenue.

The proposed tax break for landlords was introduced in September on the heels of a landmark bill that will extend lead-testing mandates to nearly all rental units in the city by 2022.

Oh said he pitched the legislation because of the high costs of remediating lead. Without a sizable subsidy, Oh said landlords might decide to take their rental units off the market and reduce affordable housing rather than comply with the law.

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Oh contended the subsidy could also help prevent landlords from raising rents to pay for remediation.

“There’s a lot of lead in this city,” he said. “This is a city of old buildings.”

The new law will affect an estimated 175,000 units built before 1978 when the consumer use of lead paint was banned. The average age of Philadelphia’s housing stock is more than 90 years old.

The previous lead-testing legislation, which applied to only landlords with units occupied by renters with children under 6 years old, was said to be unenforceable and created a two-tier housing market leading to discrimination of families with young children.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.