Smith-Wade-El speaks in support of eviction reform at Philly Town Hall

LANCASTER, May 17 –  On Wednesday evening, state Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El joined Philadelphia Councilwoman Kendra Brooks and state representatives from the city—Jordan Harris, Elizabeth Fiedler and Rich Krajewski—and over 60 community members in South Philadelphia to speak about his eviction sealing bill, H.B. 1769 and other legislative eviction reform initiatives.

“Home is where life begins for Pennsylvania families – for all of us,” said Smith-Wade-El. “When our children get up in the morning to go to school, they should do so from a bed in a home that is safe, warm and dry. Real educational equity would ensure that all children have a home to go home to so they have the stability needed to grow and flourish socially and academically. Inaccurate, unscrupulously distributed eviction records haunt families and make children homeless, even in cases when the judge found in the tenant’s favor. It’s time to put a stop to that.”

“The harm of eviction records falls most heavily on Black women and their children, and the damage ripples out into our classrooms, our schools and our communities,” said Councilwoman Kendra Brooks of Philadelphia City Council. “We can’t expect our young people to succeed in school during the day if they don’t have a safe place to lay their head at night.”

State legislators spoke in support of H.B. 1769, which would increase access to affordable housing by sealing eviction records in some cases. State Rep. Smith-Wade-El is the prime sponsor of the bill, and Harris, Krajewski and Fiedler are co-sponsors. 

Community members, including two educators and one recent graduate, described how evictions had upended their lives and disrupted the education of children in their care. Several people with immediate concerns about eviction were able to connect with staff from Community Legal Services, who were on site to provide legal support.

One woman, Cherish Green, who experienced eviction and housing instability during her childhood, recalled picking through a trash bag of belongings in order to find what she needed for school. She had dropped out of school before enrolling in One Bright Ray to complete her high school education

“Even after the eviction, it was almost impossible to find a place to stay because of the eviction record,” she said.

“Philadelphia is allowing unfettered gentrification and growth in housing markets that are rarely accessible to most students in Philadelphia,” said Clarice Brazas, social studies teacher at School of the Future. “From both personal experience and what I have seen in my students, I can tell you that the long-lasting effects of housing insecurity and eviction on children’s education, as well as their physical and mental health, are enduring.” 

“We know that right now, to many of you, housing does not feel like a human right,” Krajewski said. “How can it when the rent goes up and up and up, while your wages stagnate? When the PHA waitlist is thousands of names long and your wait time to get a callback is 5 years? Or when you are being denied housing because of an eviction record from five years ago, a record that doesn’t even make sense because your case was settled!”

“This past fall, Community Legal Services released a report in partnership with PolicyLink about the devastating impact of eviction records in Pennsylvania,” said Holly Beck, divisional supervising attorney for the Housing Unit of Community Legal Services. “We found that after going down in 2020 and 2021, thanks to eviction moratoriums and federal rental assistance during the pandemic, eviction filings have risen back to pre-pandemic levels. CLS strongly supports H.B. 1769, which would address the modern problem of online eviction court records by placing reasonable limits on access to those records.”

“Safe housing is the building block that allows our neighbors to find and maintain jobs, keep their kids in school, build community, and take care of their mental and physical health,” Fielder said. “But past eviction filings, even if inaccurate, outdated or misleading, can be a major barrier to stable housing. As legislators, it’s our responsibility to support working people and families by sealing eviction records.”