This morning, City Council passed legislation that could improve quality of life for Philly's LGBTQ population by offering a $4,000 tax credit to encourage employers to choose health-insurance plans that don't have exclusions for transgender individuals' care, and by requiring that such exclusions be eliminated from the city's own non-union health-care offerings. The bill also makes changes to gender-specific language on city forms, and increases rights for life partners.
The vote wasn't unanimous; it went 14-3 in favor. Councilman At Large David Oh said that he'd "like to support this bill" but he had some issues. He had asked the bill's primary sponsor, At-Large Councilman Jim Kenney, to hold the bill to work out those issues, but Kenney had declined. Oh's concerns included a the worry that eliminating gender-specific identification on school forms would create challenges in collecting data on single mothers and fathers in the city. He also said that, while he supported assisting current transgender city employees with gender-reassignment surgeries, he wasn't sure that "we should provide new surgeries."
Councilman Brian O'Neill seconded that: "The changes in the medical insurance for transgender surgery, I'm not there yet." And Councilman Bill Green said he worries about the bill were solely financial. The tax credits, he said, "is largely a waste of money." Given other budget constraints, "I see no reason to take $2 million and growing, and spend it on something that provides a marginal and incremental benefit."
State Rep. Brian Sims, who addressed Council, didn't see it that way. "Today," he told them, "we get to add your voices to the chorus of civil rights leaders. ... Today, you are agents of equality. … This is a remarkable day in our city's rich history."
A blighted building in Old City that we told you about last month is finally showing some signs of new ownership, following rumors of its acquisition by a (formerly) super secret real estate investor.
In recent weeks the south face of the 105 N. 2nd St. has been plastered with a sign advertising New Hope-based Northeastern Commerical Funding as the principal lender involved in the sale and presumably redevelopment of the Trenton China Pottery complex.
According to new deed records from the city, the building, which is valued at an even $2 million by the Office of Property Assessment, was sold by previous owner Jack Azran on March 7, 2013 for $1 (in other words, presumably, a silver briefcase full of cash). However, real-estate-transfer tax documents for the sale indicate that Azran's cash consideration was $3.5 million.
So who are the mysteriously well-funded buyers? The deed records list the imaginatively named "105 N. 2nd Street Investors, L.P." as the buyer, with an address at the ever-dubiously-occupied Waterfront Square condominiums. That address corresponds with what the OPA lists as a commercial unit on the ground floor of the complex's Reef Tower.
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The ACLU today filed a lawsuit challenging a Norristown, Pa., municipal ordinance that "punishes innocent tenants and their landlords for requesting police assistance" — including victims of domestic violence. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, who "was threatened with eviction under this policy after she called the police for protection from her abusive ex-boyfriend."
The ordinance, according to the ACLU, "penalizes landlords and encourages them to evict their tenants when the police are called to a property three times in four months for 'disorderly behavior,' including responding to incidents of domestic violence."
Norristown, the seat of Montgomery County, is no stranger to civil rights controversies, drawing protests from advocates who accuse local police of detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). More on the immigration controversy from WHYY's Emma Jacobs here. The ACLU press release is below.
So, the Village Voice put Philly-born porn star Stoya on their cover this week. That should be a good story and good click-bait. We should know, since we did a cover story on her in 2008. Of course there's room for multiple stories in alt-weeklies on the same subject, especially four years later. I'm just courting some of that sweet sweet click-bait.
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In case you thought things had become more progressive in Harrisburg, here's a reality check. Pennsylvania's state legislature, last year the star of national headlines for its proposal to mandate pre-abortion ultrasounds (since women who didn't want to see them could just "close your eyes," according to the governor), is back with more anti-abortion legislation. HB 818, a revived proposal to ban insurance companies offering abortion coverage from the Pennsylvania health-insurance exchange to be established via the Affordable Care Act, passed out of the state House today.
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
Is this fucker even dead? This staid-looking asstower has been promised for the last eight years and still hasn't seen a stick of construction.
This location, on the 100 block of Spring Garden, isn't all that historically exciting. Spring Garden Street didn't even exist here until 1923. Spring Garden used to start at 6th Street and was later expanded to 5th. In classic Philly fashion, it took five decades of preparation for the extension all the way to Delaware Avenue. After it was finally done, the piece of Spring Garden that was brought into this area cut across the pre-existing grid in such a way as to render several blocks disfigured. The site of this project was where Spring Garden collided with Green Street, which was the original major thoroughfare for this neighborhood. The result was an extremely wide-ass section of Spring Garden Street. Even today, Google Maps labels the block as both Green Street AND Spring Garden Street.
NOW SEE THIS: Whiny tattletale who doesn't know how to use his iPhone tries to get people arrested for smoking pot at Independence Mall on 4/20.
Youtube is horizontal, buddy. Hold your phone that way.
Philly's Small Amounts of Marijuana program saves the city an estimated $2 million per year (despite its imperfections) — but it will be eliminated by July 1 unless the District Attorney's Office gets more funding. That's a promise from District Attorney Seth Williams, who told City Council at budget hearings this afternoon that the flat-funding of his budget — as proposed in an "arbitrary" fashion by the Nutter administration, which Williams claims ignored his request for budget input — would require him to make "unfortunate choices" that could ultimately cost the city money, fill city jails and roll back successful public safety initiatives.
Williams says the flat-funding is functionally a budget cut due to increased salary obligations. He is asking for at least $2.75 million more for public safety initiatives, and $2 million to prevent programmatic cuts. He calls that a "bare bones" request — it doesn't cover things like modernization of a computer system left over from the 1990s.
At City Council budget hearings today, a panelist made a remark about state legislators' notorious disinterest in helping out Philadelphia. But Council President Darrell Clarke responded that he'd have to take a pass on Council's beloved tradition of Harrisburg-bashing for the day: He'd just gotten word that enabling legislation for his proposed "gentrification relief" plan for property taxes, to ease the impact of the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) had passed out of committee.
The House Urban Affairs Committee approved three bills: one that would let municipalities place liens on delinquent property owners' land elsewhere in the state, a second that would let Philly offer tax relief based on factors like age and ability to pay, and a third that would let the city implement a means-tested program allowing property owners to pay their taxes in installments.
All three bills now move to the House floor for a vote. Not yet approved out of committee: A fourth bill that would call for a constitutional amendment enabling Philly to tax its businesses and residences at different rates. That proposal was considered important to the roll-out of AVI since a side-effect of the initiative is that a significant amount of the tax burden will shift from commercial properties onto previously undervalued residential ones. City leaders have been trying to figure out ways to ease that shift, such as exempting the first $30,000 of any owner-occupied property's value from its taxable value, ie. a homestead exemption.
For Philly's Latino Catholic population, attending Spanish-language mass is an increasingly challenging proposition. That's because one church after another serving Latino populations has closed: St. Henry in Hunting Park, St. Boniface in Norris Square, and now, possibly La Milagrosa, a chapel at 19th and Spring Garden that many Latino Catholics see a cultural and religious landmark, believed to be home to Philly's first Spanish-language mass. The parishioners are wondering: Is the church selling them out to settle its debts?
That was the question underlying a rally on Sunday outside the chapel, where La Milagrosa supporters and members gathered in the street for a "Last Mass" to bring awareness to the chapel's proposed closure and sale. "Faith is not for sale, community is not for sale, family is not for sale, history is not for sale. But this building is very much for sale," said Gloria Casarez, the city's LGBT Affairs Director, whose great grandparents were early members of the church. "The archdiocese has thrown us out on the street today. We hold services on the street today because the archdiocese's decision is to sell our home."
Church member Clara Jerez, a Colombian immigrant, has been attending mass here for eight years, though she lives in South Philadelphia. She speaks English, but travels across town for the Spanish-language mass, which was the closest thing she could find to the services she was used to back in Colombia. She's not sure what she'd do if La Milagrosa closes. "I think I will not find any place like this. This was like a home for us," she says.
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