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Kensington residents asked the 7th District Council candidates several questions at our forum. Here’s what they had to say.

This story is part of our “Hey, City Hall! It’s us, Kensington” series. Do you have a question for Philly government? Our journalists are here to bring your questions to City Hall on your behalf. Just fill out this form, and we’ll get straight to work.

On May 8, City Council candidates Andrés Celin and Quetcy Lozada joined Kensington Voice for an election forum at McPherson Square Library. 

About 50 people attended the forum. Some asked the candidates questions directly. Here are the questions they asked and what the candidates had to say.

Editor’s note: This forum took place over two hours, and several candidates needed to leave early for various reasons. We decided to cut questions and responses that didn’t include more than one candidate. However, you can watch the full stream here

Kensington resident Darlene Burton addresses the 7th Council District candidates and some of the mayoral candidates at Kensington Voice’s election forum at McPherson Square Library on May 8, 2023. (Photo by Jillian Bauer-Reese)

We know we’re a containment facility, so don’t try to tell us we’re not. We want to know real solutions – steps that you all are going to take to help us because we’re tired. 

Full Question: “Kensington is a billion-dollar-plus-a-year drug business. We’ve seen disinvestment, I’ve been here for 27 years. I’m tired of the smoke, so please don’t blow it. I want to know exactly what you are going to do about the residents that live here that see people shooting up, have people having sex in their backyards, have drug dealers throwing packs in their backyards when the cops come in, then go in and retrieve it. I need some real facts about what you all are going to do. So please, I need you all to come correct because this here out here is very traumatizing. You can see a child walking to school and a junkie shooting up with reckless abandon. I came to work and see somebody shooting up in her privates, while kids were walking past going to school. We know we’re a containment facility, so don’t try to tell us we’re not. We want to know real solutions – steps that you all are gonna take to help us because we’re tired. I’m tired.” 

Andrés Celin: I want to answer your question about specifics. If I’m living in my house, and there’s someone using in front of me, and I, myself, feel safe enough maybe to try to move them but then someone comes in with a weapon and says you can’t move them because then buying is how I make my money – that’s something that’s absolutely unacceptable, right? If we don’t have enough police officers on the street, then how do we work through the contract process to make sure that as many folks who have a bathroom be on the street and enough civilians can be in the office so that we maximize that. If there is something that does not require a police officer to be the first one to respond, then we need a program where we have trained clinicians who can be there and address a situation that’s a crisis, but the police officers are at the corner in case they need to intervene. That means that we need to take that program that right now is a pilot, and expand it and fund it. If we need more people who are street outreach workers, right to build relationships and get people to accept treatment. My work when I was on council for someone for six months trying to get them into treatment, they wanted to get into treatment, but the barriers did not let them because she was allergic to methadone. So how do we train those people? How do we pay them? Well, how do we make sure that we have more folks that will stay in the van, but they actually are on the street and they’re safe enough with police backing them so that they can do their jobs? 

Quetcy Lozada: There’s been an issue of concentration in this neighborhood – everything is allowed here. And for a long time, I think that people got away with the fact that folks in the administration and elected positions would say that, “You can’t arrest our way out of it.” So that turned into we’re not going to do anything about it. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to force people to do their jobs. There has to be enforcement in our community. There has to be a way for us to be able to see who are these outreach workers connecting with every day. There’s millions of dollars in programming coming into the neighborhood right now, but we don’t see it. Because there is no way for us to actually figure out who’s doing the work, who’s receiving the work. And if the program is not [working], then how do we reallocate those funds. We’re going to have to kind of step back a little bit, support and work with police, figure out what the resources are and whose giving them, and then figure out how to assess those dollars and reroute those dollars.

Are you for or against injection sites? And will you support or continue to fund the syringe exchange in our community?

Full Question: “My parents migrated from Italy to the Harrowgate section in 1954. I was born here, I was raised here. I still live here. I’ve worked at Prevention Point. I’ve worked at the shelters. I’ve seen what’s been going on. I’ve had enough. I can’t walk my streets. I can’t go to the El without going around needles. And our children, our children, this is not normal for their brain developments. They see you’re injecting drugs and then right next to them, you’re selling drugs. They should not have to witness this on a daily basis. My son brought a business into this area, and I’m so proud of that and we’re going to try to bring change here.” 

Andrés Celin: Thank you and your son who really want to reinvest in the community and open up a business. We thank you and we want to work with you. First, without community support and the community being part of designing and wanting an opioid prevention site or safe injection site – no. Secondly, in terms of syringes, when we talk to folks who are experts in working with people in addiction, there’s something there that has to happen in terms of preventing the spread of disease. But if syringes are the only thing we’re doing, then we’re failing. If we don’t have a plan to pick up syringes and clean our parks, then we are failing. If that’s one part of it, sure. But if that’s the only thing we’re doing, then we’re being irresponsible and the containment strategy here in Kensington is immoral. I think that the bar should be treatment and housing – that’s the bar. The bar is getting people off the street and getting people into housing. 

Quetcy Lozada: I’ve been very clear about my position on safe injection sites, and that is no. There was discussion about 10 of them coming into the [city]. My response to that was, “If we’re gonna get 10, then Kensington should be the last one because of everything that has been happening for the last 20 or 30 years.” I am actually presenting a resolution to change the zone codes to prevent safe injection sites from propeling into the 7th Council District regardless of whether they come into the City of Philadelphia or not. I hope to have a unanimous vote on that. All of the other district council people have said to me that yes, they will vote on that zoning code change order. As it relates to the syringes, we’ve seen the damage that Prevention Point has made. We see the concentration that has happened here [and] the services that are happening here. So I think that is part of what we need to remove from the neighborhood. Not necessarily doing away with programs that offer syringes, but removing them from this particular neighborhood. 

What is the timeframe that you’re hoping to accomplish what you’re hoping to accomplish? 

Full Question: “I was born and raised in the City of Philadelphia. It was never like this when I was growing up, and I gotta say, we are in such a crisis right now. I want to know, what is the timeframe that you’re hoping to accomplish what you’re hoping to accomplish?” 

Quetcy Lozada: I started on day one in November. I’ve worked with our state partners to be able to address the opioid crisis here. With Senator Tartaglione … we were able to get tranq added to the controlled substances. I’m working with our federal and state partners, the department of health, to ensure that whatever resources that are available come here. And working with you all. There has been a lot of talk about housing needs. We have a Land Bank. The Land Bank needs to go into the hands of those who have been taking care of public land for a long time. 

Andrés Celin: I think that the city and all of us here on the stage owe you and everyone who’s been in this community an apology for what you’ve had to witness for a while. I’ve been working in the community my entire adult life. I’ve walked every single block around Kensington and Allegheny doing home visits, connecting people to services, and registering people to vote. You asked the question about time. I think that we have to rebuild trust by being honest. Any number I give you right now would be dishonest. But I think what is important to do is work with community groups like civic associations, neighborhood groups, nonprofits in an area to say, “What is the collective plan?” And to say, “These are our targets for year one, or year two, or year three, and year four, within the first term.” If we don’t meet them, we say, “These were the targets., this is where we got, this is why we didn’t get to where we wanted to go, this is what we learned, and this will we’ll do in the next year.” Because I think we all want to see movement – not promises. We all want to see honesty and accountability and not passing the political hot potato around. I think that’s really important, and we should be specific about the numbers in year one. 

Can you please talk about your approach to collaboration and how you plan to collaborate across city systems and coordinate and collaborate with organizations like Fab Youth Philly to help achieve your goals?

Full Question: “I’m the executive director and founder of Fab Youth Philly, a youth-serving organization that provides summer and after-school jobs in Kensington and in West Philly. I actually was just a co- moderator for a mayoral forum on Monday night, on issues pertaining to older youth. City agencies like parks and recreation, DBHIDS, and DHS often work in silos, although often towards shared goals, but from different perspectives. Can you please talk about your approach to collaboration and how you plan to collaborate across city systems and coordinate and collaborate with organizations like value Philly to help achieve your goals?” 

Andrés Celin: When I worked in city council, a big part of my job as an outreach director was to bring representatives sometimes, commissioners that we commissioned from different city agencies to work on a particular issue. That means that you have to build relationships, you have to have pre meetings with folks to set the agenda to set expectations so that people can come ready with the information that they need to present to other agencies or the community. That means more work. That means more meetings. But ultimately, when you come to have a planning meeting with city agencies and the community, there’s an agenda, you have a sense of what the goals are, and you have a process with the community that folks can talk between themselves to figure out what are their two or three priorities, and then we come in and we work it out. Then there’s follow-up, and you bring folks back to the table to say what has been our progress. You give folks a chance to say, “Hey, prep your numbers, so that we can look at the same information together, and we can have a balance between support and accountability.” On the community side, especially as an elected council member, as an elected leader. Sometimes you have to rebuild trust. You have to invite folks to the table a couple of times – maybe they won’t come. But you keep inviting folks to the table.

Quetcy Lozada: We’ve noticed that departments do work in silos, they oftentimes don’t talk to each other. They don’t know who’s providing what service, or who’s actually receiving the service. Part of the work that we need to do is figure out who’s doing the work, what type of service that they’re offering, and who’s receiving that service. For example, one organization is serving 400 hundred students but right down the street they’re serving the same 400 students as opposed to expanding the number. Part of the work in City Council is assessing who actually gets the funding in neighborhoods like mine. And who are the people that we’re serving, physically? Where are they? Where do they come from? Where do they live? What are their needs? And how do we connect them and others to the services that are targeted to improve their quality of life.

There are at least 10 nonprofit organizations in Kensington. I own one warehouse and two mixed-use properties. But I can’t find any individual, government entity, or organization that can repair and use them under contract. We have all these organizations, but there is no one willing to help. How will you resolve that problem?

Quetcy Lozada: People are always looking for people to activate some kind of space for the government to provide services at unused properties. We need to be able to open up the access to small landlords like yourself. Oftentimes, you don’t even know how to connect with an office like mine or the City of Philadelphia. Because we don’t know that there’s a need and we don’t know that you have the capacity. Connecting with small business owners like yourself or small landlords like yourself and telling me what your needs are is extremely important. It’s part of what’s missing in government.

Andrés Celin: Thanks, Patrick. A district council office team has maybe eight or nine staff members. A district roughly has 180,000 people. So it’s not possible for those folks to constantly service everyone in the district. That means that in order to be effective, you have to make sure that everyone on the team is up to date, putting in work on the front end to make sure that we have a clearer sense of who the organizations are. What are they doing? What are their needs? We’re updating those lists, and you can search them like a switchboard operator. To say, oh, Patrick, we had a conversation. We’ve had you call our office. If you left a voicemail, you got to call back. Even if it took a week, you got a call back. We had a conversation. And then we have a sense for who could use space, who’s missing space, what grants are available? We have to hold the City accountable to make sure that those grants get to the people who apply and then when they’ve been approved, they actually get dispersed. 

What are you going to do to protect renters in this district and Philadelphia? 

Full Question: “I teach eighth grade, six blocks south of here. Every day I have students come in, and it’s clear that their learning is going to be limited by the fact that they spent the last night in a shelter. So my question is simultaneous to the drug crisis in Kensington is a housing crisis. The number of evictions per month in Philadelphia has gone from 100 a month to 400 a month in the last two years. So nothing is going to happen for my students and frankly, for the addiction crisis without secure housing. Philadelphia, for example, has no rent control, no cap on how much a landlord can increase rent is less landlords price gouge, put someone on the street and flip units for a profit. Added to that is that development, lot of use and landlord lobbies make up a third of campaign donations to this election cycle. So people are being put on the street for profit, people whose children respectfully I spent every day with. So what are you going to do to protect renters in this district and Philadelphia?” 

Andrés Celin: Thank you for your question, and thank you for your work, especially here in Kensington. In this community being a teacher is oftentimes doing three or four jobs at the same time in the classroom. So I thank you, and thank you for your question. I wholeheartedly agree that we have a housing crisis right now. In this part of the city, this isn’t San Francisco. We have a lot of vacant lots. We have a lot of city-owned lots, and we don’t have a clear process to prioritize who are going to be the folks that are best suited to do affordable housing – real affordable housing – affordable for folks to rent and buy here in this part of the city. I think we need new units, and actually, the district council member has enormous influence over where those city lots go. And I think that what’s fair to everyone is to have a clear, transparent criteria and process. These are the folks if [the lots] are available, they will get first dibs online so they can do it affordably. Now in terms of renters specifically, we need to strengthen our support so that we’re stopping evictions. I think we have to strengthen what we currently have just to support people to stop moving on to the eviction process. Mediation

Quetcy Lozada: Rent control I don’t think is a conversation we’re ready to have. We’re not as big as New York. There are properties that have been acquired by people from outside of the city. And so they think that, “Yeah, the rent that I charge in New York, I can charge here.” Not knowing the community that they’re coming into to buy in and to rent to. Part of the responsibility as a district councilperson is to ensure that the only developers that come here or those who come to acquire land here, that if it is from the Land Bank, that it’s made 100% affordable. It’s hard to find the ability to protect the community and make sure that what happens here in Kensington is not the same thing that has happened in other parts of the district, which is that it’s been gentrified because people from outside came and thought they could charge enormous amounts of rent. And people that live in that neighborhood felt that they didn’t belong.

How will you be supporting and implementing positive investment into our community and aiding the efforts that already are happening here? Because good things are happening here – they are. And how are you considering our overall health? And that includes gun violence.

Full Question: “I’ve lived in Kensington I guess my whole adult life, which is about 15 years. I do gardening work, community work, and some community organizing. If you have lived in Kensington, no matter what age you are, whether you’ve lived in a house or on the street, you have experienced trauma over and over. The residents of Kensington have been doing the city’s jobs for decades. This place has been left behind and divested from. We’re tired of doing the city’s job, so stop asking. We will happily sit at the table, but we’re not going to do your job. We’re tired of not being able to answer our children’s questions of why where we live is the way that it is. How will you be supporting and implementing positive investment into our community and aiding the efforts that already are happening here? Because good things are happening here – they are. And how are you considering our overall health? And that includes gun violence. 

Andrés Celin: Part of my job still is to be a trauma trainer. So I work with folks on how to support people who’ve been impacted by trauma. The question from a parent’s perspective of, “Do we normalize this so that folks feel maybe a little bit safer? Or do we let our children know that this is not okay?” is an impossible choice for parents. And we should be very clear that that is just unacceptable [and] that we have failed. The city has failed folks here in Kensington and the community. In terms of positive investments, it’s gonna take work. When I met with some of the leaders here, there’s a very strong coalition of folks working here at McPherson – folks that work in the library, from Impact, from Fab Youth Philly, NKCDC, the civics, SNBL, Kensington neighborhood association. There’s work that when I met with folks, they said, “Look, we want you to be one dish at the potluck – one person at a conversation. But you’re not going to reinvent the wheel. Support that work that we’re doing.” I think that’s the question that we have to ask as a city. How can we support the work that they’re doing, but what do we need to be taking responsibility for? And what does that look like concretely? And how do we get there?

Quetcy Lozada: We’ve met with community residents and all of the communities that are out here. For a long time, you guys were excluded from the conversation. And I think that this time around, when the opioid settlement money came in, we talked to community groups about creating a plan that involved your priorities. Everybody came in with different priorities. Some of you wanted to prioritize education, others on housing, others on greening and cleaning, others on gun violence. And with the Kensington Plan that’s being created now, that’s being led by organizations like NKCDC and Impact Services, where a lot of people are part of the conversation, ensuring that plans like that are the priority as we think about how do we improve quality life and how do we bring change to this neighborhood is extremely important. And those are the types of plans that I intend to support in the future.

On day one, what strategic steps will you take to bring this nightmare to an end? 

Quetcy Lozada: On day one and since day one, Kensington has been my priority, and that’s not going to change. I live here. Since the beginning of this campaign, I have been very respectful. Why? I’m respectful to Mr. Celin and to other candidates because on May 17, we have to be leaders, we have to work with one another. I find it very disrespectful when people bring people to meetings with this type of nonsense. I really do. So I ask you to think about and look at what people have done before they got here to Kensington – not to other neighborhoods, but to Kensington – to ask you for their support. Look at the work that they’ve done – don’t listen to what they’re saying. Thank you all for caring so much about Kensington, for caring about the 7th Council District, for caring about your blocks, and standing up and making your voices heard. 

Andrés Celin: Again, I want to be clear that what the councilmember said that I did is just not true. That’s want to be clear about that. The second thing is that I live in North Square. I live very close to here. Most of the work that I’ve done in Youth United for Change, at Congreso, at other organizations has been here in Kensington and Fairhill. I’ve walked the blocks with my lanyard as a social worker to make sure that everyone knows that I’m just here to provide services and we can actually work together regardless of what’s going on in that particular moment. I think for me on day one, it has to be that we have built a plan, starting on May 17. Including with the councilmember, including the folks that are part of her campaign, to say, “What is what we need to do so that by the time we get inaugurated in January, when you introduce legislation, we can start the campaign for what we need in the budget for Kensington immediately.” Making sure that folks have outlets to talk to the media, that folks are able to say and advocate specific things that we need to get funding for and advocate relentlessly for it, not just me as a council member, but hand in hand with folks in the community. So I think on day one, after Election Day on May 17, we should be telling folks what our plan is going to be for January 2024. Thank you very much.

Editors: Jill Bauer-Reese, Zari Tarazona Designer: Khysir Carter

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