Political and community leaders turned out to mark the unveiling of the renovated Brown’s ShopRite of Cheltenham.
The newly renovated 75,000-square foot store was unveiled Wednesday morning, and features expanded offerings such as an International Market, and a new seafood department.
“We went to great lengths to offer options to help people live a healthier life,” said Jeff Brown, president and CEO, Brown’s SuperStores, Inc. “Between produce, seafood and fish, poultry and meat, dairy and deli, we have 1,000 fresh items in this store that celebrate the heritage of our customers.”
The $12 million renovation project was financed by a combination of $5.5 million in state money and $6.5 million in private funding. The store, located at 2385 Cheltenham Avenue, employs 325 people.
The project is a part of first lady Michelle Obama’s national effort to increase healthy food access to millions of underserved people across the nation.
In July, Obama joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in announcing commitments from Brown’s Super Stores, SUPERVALU, Walgreens, Walmart, California FreshWorks Fund, Calhoun’s Grocer, and Klein’s Family Markets to expand and open more than 1,500 stores over the next five years to serve approximately nine million consumers.
“Jeff is showing us that we can make stores in areas that really weren’t profitable, profitable for small businesses — creating great jobs, serving healthier food for the community — and we want to do this all around the country,” said Larry Soler, president and CEO, the Partnership For a Healthier America.
The White House has recognized Brown’s Super Stores for its efforts in serving urban communities who lack affordable, healthy food.
“The first lady has really laid out a vision for this nation — and it’s a vision that calls upon all of us to step back and think about how are we impacting the health and well-being of our nation’s children — and what changes can we make to help improve their health,” said Sam Kass, White House senior policy advisor.
“Make no mistake, the future of our country is really at risk. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) predicts that one in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime. When you step back and understand the consequences of this — they’re devastating.”
A plaque bearing the name and likeness of state Rep. Dwight Evans was unveiled during the celebratory event. Evans was hailed for his work in developing the Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The grant and loan program which encourages supermarket development in underserved neighborhoods is regarded as a national model.
The FFFI was launched when Brown’s SuperStores opened a ShopRite store on Island Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.
“I want to be very clear. This is not about me, this is not about the Browns and this is not about elected officials. It’s about the customers. It’s about the taxpayers. It’s about the people,” said Evans.
“The Browns and the elected officials are no more than conduits to what people deserve — and you deserve the best.”
The ShopRite is also now home to the new Einstein FastCare health clinic. Led by nurse practitioners from the Einstein Healthcare Network, the clinic provides convenient and affordable basic and preventative health care. The walk-in clinic offers treatment for sore throats, earaches, sinus infections, flu or cold symptoms and urinary tract infections. A clinic visit costs $57 and most insurances are accepted.
“We have a convenient care clinic, which we know will be of great service to the community — but we also believe this will provide screenings, health education and will serve as a point of access to people in connecting them to primary care providers,” said Mary Beth Kingston, Chief Nurse Executive, Einstein Healthcare Network.
The clinic also houses a benefit bank office. Through this office, consumers can tap into SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Access Program), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and other benefits.
The clinic was developed in partnership with UpLift Solutions and Bellin Health in collaboration with the Convenient Care Association. During the event, Brown noted that he was willing to work with other supermarket retailers who are interested in launching similar clinics.
Founded in 1988, Brown’s Super Stores is a family-owned and operated supermarket chain of 10 Philadelphia area ShopRite supermarkets. Brown founded Uplift Solutions in 2009, which has pioneered efforts to eliminate areas lacking access to fresh and affordable food.
It’s another record for Philadelphia — the longest “Soul Train” line — officially noted by Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday when he accepted a certificate issued by the Guinness Book of World Records.
“We have a lot going on in Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “But, sometimes we just need to celebrate.”
The mayor, against the advice of all his advisors, he said, took part in the “Soul Train” line last February and noted that it was magical moment for participants.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It really felt like the whole city had come together for one unique moment.”
A crowd of 291 people took part in the “Soul Train” line on Feb. 13, 2012 in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of “Soul Train” creator and host Don Cornelius, who died last year. Philadelphia’s record beat the previous record of 211 people set in by students and staff at Beverly Hills High School.
“We figured that was a number we could beat,” said Sheila Simmons, one of the event organizers present at Wednesday’s press conference.
She vowed — as did several others present — that Philly would fight to keep the record, which was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records last month.
“This record belongs in Philadelphia,” she said.
Mannwell Glenn, the man behind the record breaking idea, agreed.
“You can come after this record if you want — but we’re going to keep it,” he said.
More than 2,000 people showed up at the event last winter, many dressed in Afro wigs and bell bottoms to honor Cornelius, host of the long-running TV show “Soul Train.”
He was a music legend, as was the show’s theme song “TSOP” (The Sound of Philadelphia) which ran in the background during the press event.
TSOP was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who recorded it with MFSB, the Philadelphia International Records house band, with the Three Degrees singing the vocal parts in 1974. In just a few months the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
The 75-year-old Cornelius committed suicide on Feb. 1, 2012. He had been suffering from health problems, a difficult divorce, and had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge in 2009.
The circumstances surrounding his death did nothing to change his legacy, said E. Steven Collins, one of the organizers of the “Soul Train” event.
“He was a great person,” Collins said, noting that in his final days Cornelius was in a great deal of physical pain.
Emergency planning in Philadelphia has come a long way in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001.
“There obviously have been dramatic changes in the emergency management posture of the city,” said Liam O’Keefe, deputy-managing director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management. “The best indicator of that is the size and resources provided to the city’s Office of Emergency Management — OEM has expanded from five full-time emergency managers to, in October, what will be 27 full time emergency managers.”
Perhaps the most important change has been the adoption of what is called the “Incident Command System.”
It addresses one of the biggest problems that emerged during Sept. 11, 2001, when the command structures of different organizations responding the attack failed to communicate with each other.
“During 9/11 there was a break down in communications not only on a technology side but also on the command and control side,” O’Keefe said. “So, the city has adopted the ICS that clearly spells out the roles and responsibilities of the command structure and can be used in complex events. Everybody knows who is in charge and who is in command.”
The system is now used routinely as everything from house fires to large events like the recent hurricane.
“It’s been institutionalized and that was one of the primary recommendations that came out of the 9/11 Commission Report,” he said. “So, there is better organization around emergency response in Philadelphia.”
O’Keefe noted that, for the most part, those changes have happened since 2005 and were not a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but rather Hurricane Katrina.
The federal government classifies Philadelphia — the nation’s fifth largest city — as “tier 1” in terms of its risk for terrorist attacks, putting it on the same level as New York City and Washington D.C.
But, according to O’Keefe, planners don’t try to anticipate exactly what might happen. Using terrorism as an example, he said, they leave that up to police and the Department of Homeland Security.
“After 9/11 the city made a tremendous effort to enhance the homeland security side — the police department and the fire department,” he said.
That evolution has continued to the point where the city’s response now hinges on OEM.
Instead, his office tries to draw up plans based on what action might be needed regardless of the triggering event. So, OEM draws up a blueprint for an event requiring mass evacuations or mass shelters. They can be used in the event of a terrorist attack or flooding.
“Our planning department is divided into numerous units,” he said. “So there is a unit dedicated to human services, so they would be dedicated to planning for mass care and sheltering.”
Its plans for mass shelter were of use two weeks ago for Hurricane Irene.
Other units devise plans for health and medical, and work with local hospitals to prepare for any mass casualty event. There is also a recovery unit that focuses financial recovery as well as units devoted to debris removal, damage assessment, energy planners and logistics planners.
“We’re really focused on the functional response to any disaster,” O’Keefe said. “There was a realization that you need emergency management even if your hazard profile doesn’t speak to some of those catastrophic events.”
OEM’s planning methods mirror a national trend with most planners now focusing on response rather than a specific type of catastrophic event.
“So, you could have a debris removal plan which could be executed following any number of disasters,” he said.
While Philadelphia has not had to deal with a major terrorist event, O’Keefe said the recent response to Hurricane Irene demonstrates that OEM is prepared.
“It went very, very well and I think part of that is attributable to the coordination and planning that went on in the four years subsequent to 2007,” he said.
Clarence D. “Clay” Armbrister, former senior vice president and chief of staff of The Johns Hopkins University, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Temple University, has been appointed president of Girard College.
Armbrister said his work in educational institutional settings and with the city of Philadelphia has given him the ability to enhance his skills.
“I’m excited, but at the same time, I’m humbled by the selection, excited about the opportunity and the prospects. [I’m] really looking forward to working with the students, administration, faculty, staff members along with the Board of City Trusts to try to maintain what is a gem institution in the city,” Armbrister said.
Additionally, Armbrister discussed his goals for the school.
“My goals are to listen and try to help figure out the best for maintaining the school and hopefully begin to expand with appropriate resources,” Armbrister said.
Bernard Smalley, senior counsel to the Tucker Law Group, has known Armbrister for 20 years. As the chairman of the Girard College Committee Board of City Trusts and chair of the search committee, Smalley said Armbrister has a passion for education and the experience to be successful as the school’s president.
“I’m excited about the opportunity of having Clay as the next president of Girard College. Not only for the city, but especially for the students and the administration of the school, and for what it means to the region,” Smalley said. “He’s always been committed to quality education. We face challenges at Girard College, as does any other major educational system, the School District, the Catholic schools. We’re all facing difficult times. This is the opportunity for someone who is extremely skilled in management [and] has a foundation in education to bring his skills to help the kids at Girard to get a 21st century education.”
Mayor urges bill to indefinitely extend successful safeguard
On Thursday the Nutter administration rolled out a plan to permanently and significantly tighten Philadelphia’s curfew laws with earlier hours for minors ages 13 years old and younger.
The mayor’s plan was introduced in City Council on Thursday and follows earlier initiatives started over the summer to eliminate the problem of violent flash mobs. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, who was present when City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown brought the bill before Council, said that if local lawmakers pass the measure, children 13 years old and younger would have to be at home by 8 p.m.
“We heard from the public that the efforts we made over the summer had worked. It raised the level of attention from the parents and they wanted to know what the specific rules were and be able to have us suggest what the rules should be,” Gillison said. “We did some studies and we think this graduated approach was the way to go. Children ages 13 and younger have to be home by 8 p.m. Minors ages 14 to 15 have to be in by 9 p.m. and minors ages 16 to 17 have to be home by 10 p.m. — that’s during the school year and throughout the week, seven days a week. During the summer it would be extended by one hour for the same ages. This is for parents to understand what we expect from them — because we’re going to hold them accountable.”
Gillison said the new curfew laws would be citywide and that the changes would simplify the restrictions that are currently in place.
According to Gillison, the response from police officers has also been positive. He said that officers report they’ve been interacting with the community and communicating to parents that what the administration wants is for them to stay with their kids and not let them run around unsupervised.
“What we need them to do is take responsibility, and parents in this city have done that — they’ve stepped up. What we’re trying to do with this bill is to open up and finish the dialog. This is but one part of an entire holistic approach. But we wanted to make sure with a new City Council that this is what the curfew needed to be, these are the standards and we know the parents of this city are going to comply.”
Gillison said that the city is maintaining the extended hours for recreation centers and is working with the Youth Commission to increase the number of activities for the winter. He said that the last time he checked the statistics there were between 200 and 300 youths picked up off the streets who had violated curfew.
The good news is that law enforcement isn’t getting the same kids.
“We haven’t seen recidivists,” he said. “This is not to penalize the parents, we want them to pay attention to their children. As a result, when we bring them the first time it’s a warning — ‘Come get your kid.’ That inconvenience alone has been enough for the parents to step up. This isn’t a revenue bill; we don’t want to fine people. What we want is for parents to take responsibility for their children. We haven’t had to take the second step and fine anyone.”
Unresolved labor issues could jeopardize approval in years to come
With a word of warning about next year, the board of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority on Wednesday approved the administration’s five-year plan, insuring that state funds will continue to flow for the next fiscal year.
Board members worried about the fact Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has not reached contract agreements with any of the city’s major unions — including the firefighters’ union — and said if that remained the case next year, the plan would have difficulty getting PICA approval.
“Six years to go without a labor contract is a long time,” said board president Sam Katz. “The city’s consistent position of assuming that labor outcosts would have zero impact on the overall operating cost of the city continues to be major concern that builds up over time.”
If the administration is unable to sign contracts by next year, Katz said, he will be unable to support any kind of five-year plan.
“Next year if it’s still unresolved, I’m not going to support the five-year plan,” he said.
Still, the board approved the plan with a 4-1 vote.
Board member Sam Hopkins voted against it, saying he thought the amended plan “would haunt us for many years.”
He declined to elaborate on his specific objections adding, “It is not, in my view, reasonable.”
Last month, the board delayed a vote on the five-year plan so members could study amendments provided after PICA asked the administration to provide greater detail as to how the city would deal with the possibility that the city’s firefighters get a raise that was part of a recent contract award.
The 16-page response from the administration included a range of cuts going as high 5 percent for each department and amounting to a $260 million total. It included the elimination of 380 positions — including more than 100 firefighters — but did not include any cuts to the police department.
Hopkins said he was not satisfied with the city’s response.
“It has a list of cuts, which is just a list, it’s not incorporated into the plan in any way,” he said. “And, I don’t think it’s proper that is should be accepted as such.”
The firefighters’ union is battling the city over an arbitration award — decided in July — that gives firefighters raises totaling 9 percent over a four-year term that is set to end in just few weeks. The city appealed the ruling in court. But if the award stands, it would cost the city $200 million.
The battle over the contract, which ends in 2013, has gone on for Nutter’s entire term, and continues as firefighters prepare to enter negotiations for their next contract.
“We’re disappointed in this decision, but it had to be done,” said Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.
Gault said the plan was flawed, and that the city has the funds to pay for raises, but simply won’t do so.
“For them to put forth a budget that has no raises for nine years, it’s fiction,” he said. “There’s money. We’ve proved there’s money.”
The firefighters’ union is not the only union feuding with the administration.
Neither of the city’s municipal unions has contracts with the city. After a one-year extension at the start of Nutter’s term, both have been working without contracts.
If PICA fails to approve a five-year plan, the state can cut off as much as $300 million a year in state funds.
$20M complex provides community needed building space, jobs
North Philadelphia is now home to the new Beech International Complex at Temple University.
Located at 1520 Cecil B. Moore Ave., the $20 million, four-story, 80,000 square foot building features 100 housing units, a Mugshots café, conference space, an international market place and space for lectures, meetings and theater.
The modern green structure was designed to accommodate 200 international students, students studying international affairs, visiting scholars and international researchers.
The complex, which was completed September 2011, created 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.
Elected officials, Temple University representatives and community leaders packed the complex’s central garden plaza to mark its official opening on Friday morning.
Beech Companies President and CEO Ken Scott opened the ceremony by recalling when they broke ground on the complex on October 1, 2010.
“Imagine that just one year ago, we were standing on a cloudy, rainy day in a bunch of mud having a dedication,” Scott told attendees. “The building is completed, which a lot of people don’t believe. It’s open and ready.”
“This is a wonderful enhancement to the community, to Temple, to the city. It’s something of which we can all be very proud,” said Richard L. Bazelon, Beech Interplex chairman, board of directors of the new complex.
Mayor Michael Nutter hailed Temple University for its investment in the community.
“This university continues to invest, not only in its own infrastructure but in the community — putting people to work, educating young folks and revitalizing this part of North Philadelphia,” Nutter said.
“I could not be more excited about this development. It is in fact beautiful, but it also is functional and will support the goals of Temple University.”
The complex was lauded as a facility that not only houses Temple international students, but also serves to help revitalize North Philadelphia.
“We’re very excited to have our students here in an organized way, where they can learn and grow together,” said Ken Lawrence, Temple’s senior vice president for government, community and public affairs of the new complex.
“Temple University looks forward to continuing working with Beech Companies, working with our elected officials. There’s great things happening in North Philadelphia. This is just one of them.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah highlighted the link between Temple students and the impact of a global economy.
“To see the growth in international students, I think, will really allow our students from Philadelphia and nearby suburbs to engage with people who come from places which will play a role in their lives. The reality is that our young people are going to have to live in a global economy,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
Graduation is a milestone. And with one week away from embarking on a journey of new experiences, life changes and countless opportunities, several students in the Class of 2012 have more to celebrate.
The Philadelphia Tribune and Wells Fargo Student Achievers Reception recognized 66 high school seniors — who have made academic accomplishments while under challenging circumstances — on June 6 at the Union League of Philadelphia.
The Tribune’s president and CEO, Robert W. Bogle, greeted the students and their families and gave a congratulatory message.
“Today we honor students who have displayed an unwavered commitment to academic excellence,” he said. “Despite a number of challenges and obstacles, our student honorees, have managed in a very meaningful way to achieve something that will be important for many of your tomorrows. And that is the first step towards this journey called success.”
Bogle also recognized Constance E. Clayton for attending the event. She is the first woman and first African-American superintendent of schools in Philadelphia.
Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan, vice president of community affairs manager of Wells Fargo was the master of ceremonies, and Rev. Tamieka N. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church gave the invocation.
Thomas Knudsen, acting superintendent and chief recovery officer of the School District of Philadelphia and Pedro A. Ramos, Esq., chairman of the School Reform Commission gave remarks.
“Each and every one of you graduates has marshaled his or her resources and accomplished something real and meaningful that will be with you for all the days of your lives,” he said. “And you have done so in the face of personal challenges that would have held others back. That makes you true heroes.”
“Commit to being an aggressively life long learner,” Ramos said. “Everyday for the rest of your life seek out new knowledge and better understanding of different cultures and different ideas.”
The keynote speaker, Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church offered words of encouragement to the students. While sharing the story of his life growing up, Johnson used an analogy of chickens and eagles. He challenged the students not to act as their peers and be timid, but be rare individuals who aren’t afraid to achieve success.
“Maybe you have gone through the struggles and challenges in your own life just so you can begin to fly,” Johnson said. “It’s now time for you to launch. And as you get ready to launch, I want you to know, don’t forget this moment when you heard someone tell you to not become a chicken, but to dare to become an eagle.”
Mayor Michael Nutter and Wells Fargo Regional President Vincent Liuzzi, were also in attendance. Liuzzi presented a $25,000 check to the City of Philadelphia Office of Education’s organization PhillyGoes2College, which helps Philadelphians of all ages earn a college degree.
Among the awardees at the reception was high school senior, Christopher Miller of Carver Engineering and Sciences High School. Miller said he was honored to be recognized.
“I’m proud of myself. I had no idea what is was at first, and then my mom told me and a couple kids from school told me,” Miller said. “It means a lot.”
This fall, Miller will attend Morehouse College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history, he plans to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Within his four years of school, Miller has lost both his maternal and paternal grandfathers to cancer. Despite this emotional burden, Leah Tate, Miller’s mother said that she is proud of his accomplishments and knew that he had the ability to push through.
“He was never the kid to stand outside,” Tate said. “He always went to school and home. Everybody knew that Chris is the scholar. I’m extremely proud. Christopher is extraordinary in many ways. He’s going to Morehouse College and he did everything on his own.”
She also encourages other parents with children entering high school in the fall.
“Besides starting to make sure that they stay active, but give a little,” Tate said. “Let them go out and experience things. Don’t be scared. I didn’t achieve it for myself, but I wasn’t scared for my son.”
Members vote unanimously to keep the controversial pension program
City Council unanimously overrode the mayor’s veto of DROP legislation on Thursday but sustained — temporarily, according to the bill’s sponsor —– his rejection of the paid sick leave bill.
Council took action on a number of controversial items this week while continuing its debate over redistricting. Thursday afternoon was largely taken up with a public hearing on redistricting as Council struggled to move two proposals out of committee in time for vote next week.
Nothing had moved out of committee as of Tribune press time.
Paychecks for Council members have stopped until a redistricting plan is approved.
The override of Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of a piece of controversial legislation that kept the Deferred Retirement Option Program, with a few minor changes, sailed over the two-thirds hurdle needed for an override. Only three members had opposed the bill when it passed in June, and all three now changed their minds.
“If we vote to override the mayor, we save money,” explained Councilman Jim Kenney. “If we vote to sustain the mayor’s veto then that bill is defeated and we would still have in place the original legislation.”
The new law allows the controversial program to remain, but changes the rules for employees in an effort to save the pension fund money.
Now, employees will be required to work two years past their minimum retirement date before they could enroll in the program. And, a provision that guaranteed 4.5 percent interest payment on DROP payments was eliminated and replaced an interest rate equal to the one-year U.S. Treasury bond.
A study by Council estimated the changes would save about $1 million a year.
Nutter condemned the decision.
“Obviously, council is ignoring completely the vehement opposition of the public for whatever their own interests are,” he said. “It’s a program we can’t afford.”
Nutter said he would continue to work for the elimination of DROP. Adding that he hoped that Council will eventually change its mind — perhaps next year when a new council convenes.
“I am certainly hopeful that the current members would revisit this issue or with a number of new members, potentially a third of the body being new next term that more fiscal soundness will come into the decision making process,” he said.
Council sided with Nutter as far as paid sick leave and tabled a bill initially approved in June.
Its sponsor, Bill Greenlee, moved to table the bill just as it appeared it would come up for vote.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have 12 votes,” he said, obviously deflating the handful of activists waving signs supporting the measure.
He went on to promise that he would re-introduce the proposal after a new council was seated and said that he thought it would pass eventually.
“This issue is coming,” he said. “In every poll that was taken, the citizens of Philadelphia said this is a good bill.”
Nutter vetoed the bill in late June saying it would dampen the business climate in a city that is struggling to create jobs.
A vote on another controversial bill — a reduction in the city’s parking tax — divided members, four of whom asked Kenney, the bill’s sponsor, to withdraw, suggestions he declined and ended up passing by a 12-5 vote. Council members Bill Green, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Brian O’Neill, Blondell Reynolds Brown and Darrell Clarke opposed the bill. Green, Sanchez, Brown and Jack Kelly asked Kenney to hold the bill, which will slowly decrease the parking tax from its current 20 percent to 17 percent starting in 2014.
Nutter had very vocally opposed the plan and had also asked Kenney to hold it in a letter sent Thursday morning.
“We can’t afford it at this time,” said the mayor, saying it would create a hole in the budget that would be difficult to fill. “When you look at what’s going on in the national and local economy. Unemployment unfortunately is slightly creeping up. Tax revenues in two big areas for us — wage and sales taxes — were weaker in July and August.”
The mayor also opposed the plan because parking garage officials said they would not pass their savings on to consumers.
“It is astounding to me that the parking industry folks testified that they will not reduce the parking rates for folks who use parking lots for years while they will absorb what, in essence, is a significant windfall,” he said. “So, it’s an insult and a rip-off to the parking public.”
Asked whether he would veto the bill he replied: “I’ve not made a decision.”
In other news, Council stepped onto the international stage, passing a resolution “reaffirming the commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The resolution was proposed in advance of a United Nations vote on a Palestinian move to establish an independent Palestinian state without consulting the broader community of nations.
It passed 14-2 with Sanchez and Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., opposing and Donna Reed Miller abstaining.
The resolution, the type of thing that usually passes quietly, stirred up a debate among audience members. Ten speakers rose to discuss the issue; eight for and two against.
Israel’s Consul General in Philadelphia, Daniel Kutner, urged Council to pass the measure.
“Israelis are not against a Palestinian state,” he said. “They are only against it if it’s declared unilaterally.”
Susan Landau, a Jewish resident of East Falls, urged Council avoid the issue.
“Why is City Council reaching out to get involved in supporting legislation that is divisive within the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities and has nothing to with the city of Philadelphia? Matters related to Israel and Palestine go well beyond the purview of this body.”
The city’s nationally acclaimed foreclosure prevention program is adding a new layer of assistance for troubled homeowners, who can now get a “budget buddy” to help them avoid falling into further financial pitfalls.
“We are just launching this part of the program,” said Common Pleas Court Judge Annette Rizzo.
It is intended to help distressed homeowners develop a budget and stick to it as they emerge from foreclosure. According to Rizzo, city officials are recruiting volunteers who will work one-on-one with homeowners to develop a spending plan and then work with them long-term to make sure they adhere to their plans.
“We’re calling on a new base of volunteers, those in the financial world, those in the accounting world to help,” she said.
So far, Rizzo said, two volunteers have been recruited to launch the program.
Rizzo made the announcement Wednesday at city hall during a ceremony to recognize PNC bank for its sponsorship of a related program, the Tools for Financial Growth program, which provides financial counseling workshops for homeowners in the foreclosure prevention program. PNC kicked in $150,000 to help fund the program during its first year.
The newly launched program is an extension of the Tools for Financial Growth program, which homeowner Patrick Coleman said helped him and his wife stay on track as they worked to modify the terms of their mortgage.
“It helped me in a lot of ways,” Coleman said, one of 195 people who participated since it started earlier this year. “It reminded us to slow down on going out to certain affairs, going out to dinner at these fancy restaurants … we had to learn to pay our bills.”
In addition to instilling a sense of discipline, the program taught him some basic financial principles.
“On our credit cards, we pay that monthly fee,” he said. “Then if we have a little extra in the middle of the month we send some more money to try and build our credit up.”
He credit score remains low, Coleman said, noting that he’s working on improving the score.
“This program really helped me out a whole lot,” he said.
Philadelphia has garnered quite a bit of attention for its foreclosure prevention program, pioneered by Rizzo. It forces mortgage holders and homeowners to sit down and renegotiate the terms of the mortgage.
Noting that since the start of the recession in 2008 the stream of foreclosures has not slowed, Rizzo said she is now also trying to make sure people who saved their homes once can stay in them.
“It’s not just about determining the ability of a homeowner to enter into a really good deal with the lender/servicer but rather sustaining that deal,” Rizzo said. “To me success is no coming back.”
Since its inception in 2008, the foreclosure prevention program has kept 5,000 homeowners in their homes.
“The City of Philadelphia has long recognized that keeping people in their homes has to be one of our major goals,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “When a property goes vacant it has an impact on the rest of the community.”