City Council provides funding for anti-violence, anti-blight effort

City legislators aim to shell out $500,000 to fund a work program that will pay residents in neighborhoods suffering from gun violence and unemployment to clean up urban blight.

Philadelphia City Council HAS put forward a transfer ordinance to bankroll the pilot program. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) will oversee the program.

Running through May 2021, the program will pay individuals at least $15 an hour to clear vacant lots, clean street corridors, and provide simple maintenance throughout the city. Individuals also will receive their paychecks at the end of each workday.

Members of City Council, Kenney administration officials and others unveiled the program in early October in front of an overgrown vacant lot strewn with garbage at the intersection of West Fletcher and North 26th streets. Council President Darrell Clarke, who represents the area, said the new jobs program will help address poverty and offer economic support to young individuals living in areas with high-levels of gun violence.

“Will some of these young guys out here say, ‘I’m going to come over here and clean this up’? I don’t know,” Clarke said. “But if there is one of them that do want to come over here and say, ‘I want to be in this program and need to take it to the next level’ — absolutely, we’re going to get them there.”

The jobs program, dubbed the “Same Day Work and Pay” program, will complement the city-funded work programs that PHS already runs to clean vacant lots.

PHS will partner with four Philadelphia-based community organizations to hire individuals. The program is expected to operate four days a week, with the goal of hiring 40 individuals to work on 10 assignments per day. The pilot program also will connect workers with social services.

Individuals can expect to take home $100 a day after working between five and six hours, said Zara Sims, workforce development manager for PHS. The program’s goal is to complete 500 work assignments by year’s end.

Sims said the program allows residents to repair their own neighborhoods and receive a paycheck doing it.

“It’s right where they live and that creates such a sense of pride and a sense of ownership when members of the community can be involved in cleaning and taking care of their own neighborhoods,” Sims said.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia also have pledged to hire an unspecified number of those who complete the job training offered through the program, said William Carter IV, vice president for local government advocacy and engagement for the business group.

Members of council will dip into the $25 million they earmarked for themselves for anti-poverty initiatives in the recent budget to pay for the program.

Mel Wells, president of the North Philadelphia-based nonprofit reintegration and self-help organization One Day At A Time (ODAAT), said the jobs program will give individuals a reason to put down their guns.

“We can’t keep telling people to put their guns down without giving them something to step up to,” Wells said. “So now we have something for our people to step up to.”

One Day At A Time has been running a same-day-pay jobs program for years and will be among the community organizations partnering with PHS on the new initiative.

Darnell Scott, a supervisor at ODAAT who had passed through the organization’s same-day-pay work program after being incarcerated, said providing workers $15 an hour — well above the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage — was critical.

“They can make that $15 an hour and still save some money, support their child, and pay some bills and do everything that they need to do,” Scott said.