Philadelphia suffers from an epidemic of low-quality, unsafe, often illegal rental housing. Our team of lawyers and a community organizer take that dynamic head on, with a combination of organizing and advocacy in specific neighborhoods to demand better housing conditions; and litigation against landlords and their agents who are not providing the housing to which Philadelphians are legally entitled. To date we have filed lawsuits against landlords who violate housing quality and anti-discrimination laws; and against agents for landlords (including their lawyers) whose conduct affects large numbers of properties. We are at beginning phases of a project to organize tenants in three neighborhoods particularly affected by low-quality housing.
The proposed project would support this work by helping us target i) neighborhoods where low-income Philadelphians are especially suffering from substandard housing and ii) large-scale actors—property managers or building owners—that are concentrating substandard properties within neighborhoods of specific demographics.
The proposed data sets are records of eviction filings, tax records, rental licenses, L&I violations, and demographics. Some information is not available directly, such as the identity of unlicensed landlords, but could be estimated using two data sets (licenses and Office of Property Assessment data), to look for specific conditions/matches.
We expect that the maps will identify neighborhoods that are suffering most severely from the presence of landlords or other actors, such as property managers, that fail to comply with Philadelphia’s housing quality laws. We also expect that maps would help identify landlords who are effectively reverse redlining; that is, targeting of communities of color for substandard housing.
First, we will use the maps and reports to help us identify neighborhoods in which our work would be most impactful; they also will provide context for the neighborhoods where we are already doing the work. We will not solely rely on the data and maps, but we will use them for new ideas, to check our work, and to confirm information we have about specific neighborhoods. Second, we may use the map and reports as part of an advocacy strategy with government officials to seek systemic reforms in the landlord tenant market. For example, maps could be used in meetings and testimony in front of City Council, or to spur intervention from regulators or prosecutors. Third, to the extent the maps show particular bad actors, we could use them as the factual basis for litigation.
The students for the Summer 2019 Azavea Summer of Maps have been announced. Their fellowship will begin shortly.