What experience and/or personal background qualifies you to hold this office? If elected, what would be your top three policy goals for this office?
What informs my views and platform is my background growing up in a working-class family in Puerto Rico and my experiences as a cancer biologist. Growing up, my parents struggled to keep a home, afford healthcare, and send my brother and I to school; struggles that are all too familiar for many in Philadelphia. To this day my parents work multiple jobs just to make the basic ends meet and that is unacceptable in any society. As a democratic socialist, three of my top policy goals are informed by my belief that education, healthcare and housing above all are human rights and everyone should have access to them. My first goal is to give return our schools to community control by creating a democratically elected school board that puts our communities and children’s interests at the front and center. My second policy goal is to implement a municipal Green New Deal to transition Philadelphia to a democratically controlled 100% renewable energy system by 2030 that reduces our cities carbon emissions to zero and have a healthy planet our children and grandchildren can enjoy and thrive in. My third policy goal is to create over 200,000 new green affordable housing units within 10 years to help alleviate the current affordable housing crisis.
Our city has a major inequality problem: 26% of Philadelphians live in poverty, making us the poorest big city in the US. If elected, how will you address the issue of poverty, through legislation and other means? In your response, please address our tax structure, programs to support and invest in neighborhoods and small businesses, workforce training, and engaging businesses and non-profits to address this issue.
To help our struggling working class families that are, in many cases, on the verge of poverty, we need a drastic government intervention. To assist our working-class families we need to change our tax code, especially our wage tax, to exempt low income earners and shift the tax to wealthy Philadelphians who are not paying their fare share; in other words, having a progressive wage tax. I fully support the creation of a city owned Public Bank that will invest in small and worker owned businesses in our communities, community land trusts for affordable housing, and provide feeless services to Philadelphians. I also support raising the minimum wage to no less than $15/hour and tackit to inflation. These policies will substantially increase the standard of living for our working class communities.
Philadelphia lacks sufficient affordable housing and programs to help address homelessness. What actions will you take to combat this? Please be specific and consider land disposition (Councilmanic prerogative, land trusts, land banks, etc.), tax laws, zoning regulations and assistance programs in your response.
My plan to increase our current lack of affordable housing is multifaceted. The first part would be to create over 200,000 green, public, and affordable housing units over the next 10 years. To do so I propose we levy a vacancy tax on empty homes and apartments. Such a tax has already had stunning success in Vancouver and has raised close to $38 million for affordable housing construction. The second part of my plan is to use capital from a city owned public bank to fund the creation of community land trusts that can assist communities in keeping housing prices affordable while also giving people the ability to own their own homes. The third part is overhauling our current building codes to require that all new construction meets Gold LEED standards so that we can reduce carbon emissions to zero. The fourth part is updating our zoning regulations in a similar manner to Minneapolis in order to allow for multi-family zoning which can increase our available housing stock. I also propose the implementation of universal rent control legislation, expanding Good Cause eviction to every tenant in the city and providing a right to counsel for every person threatened with foreclosure or eviction. Last, I’m fighting to creating grants for the weatherization of buildings and
reducing taxes for homeowners by increasing the Homestead exemption tax.
If elected, do you plan to reduce or increase taxes, and which ones? Do you support the creation of any new taxes and, if so, what would be your plan for the revenues generated?
Currently in our city the tax burden disproportionately falls on the shoulders of the our working class. Many of our wealthiest citizens, our real estate developers, our cities universities and private hospitals pay little or in some cases no taxes which results in unnecessary austerity on our cities budgets and an increased tax burden on the working-poor, working-class, and middle class. I will support increasing taxes on the wealthy few in this city to make sure our city can guarantee housing, quality education and access to healthcare, as I firmly believe they are human rights and our government should work to ensure all three. To do so I support ending the 10-year tax abatement which has fueled gentrification and heavily benefitted real estate developers. I support the creation of Vacant Homes Tax that taxes luxury apartments and second homes to help increase funding for affordable housing construction and also increasing the Homestead exemption tax for all homeowners in the Philadelphia in order to combat gentrification and displacement of the poorest members in our communities. I also support overhauling our cities wage tax into a progressive wage tax that exempts low income earners and increases the amount of taxes paid by wealthier residents.
If elected, what would you do to ensure our public school system is fully funded and provides an equitable education experience for all Philadelphia students? What is your perspective on charter schools?
Currently our public schools are drastically underfunded because of decades of privatization and austerity. Research shows that your zip code heavily influences the future life outcomes of our children. To that extent, it is of no surprise that children in areas with higher incomes receive more educational resources and opportunities. After 18 years of control by Harrisburg, our schools are in poor shape. Many schools lack the necessary teachers and support staff like maintenance crews, librarians, and even nurses. We need to drastically change how we fund our schools. As apart of my campaign I fully support the Our City Our Schools tax plan that would end the 10-year tax abatement, collect PILOTS from major non-profits like UPenn and Jefferson, end the reductions in the BIRT, and increase the use and occupancy tax. With these radical changes we can close the hole in our education budget and provide the necessary funds to repair our schools, hire new staffing for our schools and provide a wholesome education to our children. On the issue of charter schools, I believe that education is a human right and should not be turned into a for profit system. Therefore I support a moratorium on any new charter applications and demand increased oversight of current charter
schools and their practices.
Do you support any reforms to current policing practices in Philadelphia, including stop and frisk? What programs would you advocate for to assist returning citizens, including post-release counseling for jobs, housing, and other support services?
For decades we have been waging a war on our black, brown and working class neighbors under the guise of fighting crime when we have caused immense damage to these communities. If we are to truly break the cycle we need to massively overhaul our current criminal justice system. As the evidence has shown stop and frisk policies that harken back to the day of Broken Windows policing does not reduce crimes while the evidence also shows that stop and frisk overwhelmingly target our black and brown neighbors. To end the cycle of mass incarceration we have to overhaul our current carceral system from one that applies punitive punishments to a system that emphasizes decarceration and restorative justice. To do so I support the closing the current dilapidated House of Corrections and using and redirect the funding to programs that aim to reduce recidivism by providing skills/job training programs and increasing pre-trial diversion programs. Another reform I will support is the ending the use of cash bail in Philadelphia which leads to unfair and unnecessarily long detentions of poor folks who can’t afford exorbitant bails. Ending cash bail will also help end the awful plea mills in our court system that results in people pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.
What is your opinion about the increasing privatization of city public spaces and institutions, including Dilworth Park and Franklin Square? What steps would you take to protect or expand public spaces in Philadelphia?
I oppose the increasing privatization of city public spaces and institutions. Our public spaces in particular our green spaces like our community gardens and neighborhood parks are an essential part of our communities character and they must be preserved and expanded. As a city councilman, I will oppose any further sales of our public parks and institutions to private interests. For to long we have let government controlled privatization and austerity strangle the life out of our communities. To aid in the expansion of our public spaces, I would support using public land and leasing it to neighborhoods to establish community gardens and parks. I also will call for increased funding for our community centers and public libraries so that we can not only properly maintain our current ones but also create new community centers and libraries in underserved communities.
How will you advance immigrants’ rights?
How i would advance immigrant rights in our city is make sure we truly live up to our title as a sanctuary city. As we saw with Occupy ICE protests last summer our city is a sanctuary city in name only, and as we saw with the P.A.R.S database still collaborates with immigration authorities like ICE. As a city councilman I will push forward legislation in collaboration with our diverse immigrant communities that once and for all truly makes our city a sanctuary city. Such legislation must meet the minimum standard of cutting all ties between our city and ICE including but not limited to refusing any future contract with ICE and guaranteeing city funds are not used in any projects collaborating with ICE. The only way we make our vulnerable immigrant communities feel like they belong in our city is if we do everything in our power to protect them from the clutches of agencies like ICE.
If elected, what will you do to advance environmental justice in Philadelphia? Specifically, how will you advocate for greater residential and commercial energy efficiency and support efforts to eradicate lead poisoning in schools and households?
A key plank in my campaign in for City Council is calling for a Municipal Green New Deal for Philadelphia. The multifaceted plank calls for transitioning the city of Philadelphia from its dependence on fossil fuels to a state where by 2030, our city will have zero carbon emissions. To so I call for transitioning our public transit system to only use vehicles powered by renewable energy. It also calls for the transitioning of PGW from natural gas to renewable energies while also bringing both PGW and PECO under democratic control by our communities. I support ending the 10-year tax abatement so that way we can repair our crumbling schools and eliminate lead and asbestos exposure in our schools. I also support increasing grants to homeowners so they can repair any outdating plumbing systems within their own homes. As apart of my Municipal Green New Deal, I also call for the revamping of our cities building codes to mandate that all new construction whether commercial or private must meet LEED green energy certification standards.