A legislative mix-up or a deliberate attempt to suppress?
Rent control advocates on Tuesday accused City Council President Darrell Clarke of bowing to pressure from landlords and shutting down a hearing on the subject.
But Clarke’s office said no such committee meeting about rent control was ever scheduled.
Councilmember Kendra Brooks had, over the past several days, advertised the hearing on social media, telling followers to tune into the virtual gathering scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Then, on Monday, she posted that the hearing had been postponed. At no point did the hearing appear on Council’s public-facing calendar.
No legislation would have been considered during Brooks’s hearing; rather, the meeting would have only included testimony from stakeholders on the possibility of limiting rent increases in Philadelphia. Brooks’s staff had lined up policy experts, renters and tenants to speak at the hearing.
The Rent Control Coalition, which includes tenants’ groups and progressive organizations, released a statement attacking Clarke, alleging he decided to censor discussion.
“City Council President Darrell Clarke and the special interests he speaks for are clearly scared of our movement — so much so that they refused to even allow an informational hearing to proceed,” the coalition said.
“For the first time, community members were going to have the opportunity to speak on the record about why Philadelphia renters deserve protections from unfair rent increases and price gouging. And this terrified the landlord lobby, who scrambled to get the hearing canceled.”
To schedule hearings, lawmakers must pass a resolution, and either they, or the chair of the appropriate committee, must submit a request with the council president. That process wasn’t followed, according to Clarke’s team.
“The hearing has not been approved as part of our normal legislative process by the council president’s office,” Joe Grace, a Clarke spokesperson, told Metro.
Brooks’s staff were under the impression the hearing would be held Wednesday because that’s the tentative date they were provided after applying for the hearing in December.
Clarke’s office did not rule out organizing a hearing on rent control.
“Renters across the city are facing unreasonable rent increases and struggling to make ends meet — the hearing may be delayed but the issue of rent stabilization is not going anywhere,” Brooks said Tuesday in a statement.
“We will reschedule the hearing and explore every possible angle to ensure that housing is a human right in Philadelphia,” she continued. “As a renter myself, I’m in this for the long haul and our movement is not backing down.”
Brooks, of the Working Families Party, is seeking to hold the hearings based on a 2020 resolution she introduced on her first day in office. Unlike some other states and cities, neither Pennsylvania nor Philadelphia place any limits on the rate at which a property owner can raise a person’s rate.
Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.