Fair Housing Should Start with the System

As someone who cares about fairer, more equitable housing in Philadelphia, both pros and cons strike me in regards to the good cause bill. Introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones in October 2017, the bill was initially meant to protect tenants against unfair and unexpected evictions. Though it is crucial to secure measures that ensure tenants will only be evicted due to just cause, such as habitually not paying rent on-time, causing consistent disturbances, and refusing rent increases, the bill does not tackle this issue at its systemic roots. If eviction is just, then landlords would be required to let the tenant know at least 30 days prior to the lease’s expiration.

In theory, protecting tenants against unjust evictions is a logical place to start. As of the end of November 2018, amendments to the bill scaled back earlier measures. Now the good cause bill would only apply to tenants whose leases are for less than a year. However, this is not applicable to most leases in Philadelphia that are to be renewed annually rather than on a month by month basis. Seeing that this is the case, the good cause bill may not be helping as many Philadelphians as first proposed. This also gives landlords the opportunity to change the terms of the leases they offer, as some landlords have expressed that they would not hesitate to change their month to month leases to yearly leases. In actuality, this will not result in protecting the vulnerabilities of renters who do not have yearly leases, defeating the purpose of the good cause bill and making it more susceptible to being challenged in court.

Even though the good cause bill was unanimously passed by Philadelphia City Council on December 6, 2018, I question whether or not it is a good first step toward housing equity. Those most impoverished are more likely to face the threat of eviction, as they have more barriers when it comes to paying rent. By instead choosing to put rent controls in place with feasible ceilings and to make affordable housing networks more expansive throughout the city, such measures on eviction may not be needed. Shifting the focus toward affordable housing and restrictions that would apply to all landlords, who offer either monthly or yearly leases, could be more effective when examining the long-term implications. Helping families who experienced eviction because of their inability to afford rent would also take a different approach to this issue. Nonetheless, the good cause bill may be better than failing to enact any equitable housing laws, but the fight for housing justice must be sustained.

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