Lead Paint Testimony

Posted by on December 8, 2011

The following is the testimony that I presented to city council on December 8, 2011 regarding legislation that would require lead paint testing for all licensed rental properties in Philly

My name is Justin Turner and I am a founding partner of Brownstone Apartments.

For those of you who are not familiar with us, we purchase blighted properties in West Philly and Germantown and perform high-end renovations.   We rent these properties and also provide financial literacy coaching, credit repair assistance, and home ownership coaching for free to our tenants.

There is a waiting list for our properties in both neighborhoods.  In 2011 we have spent over 2.5 million on the revitalization of 43 houses in West Philly and Germantown, and we were planning on spending more than that in 2012.  I say “were planning”, because if this bill passes we will be forced to cease operations in these communities and focus solely on higher-income areas.

The important thing to understand about this legislation is that it only affects the landlords who follow the rules.  It doesn’t touch the slumlords.

Only 25% of landlords in Philadelphia obtain a rental license, and the numbers are even lower in the areas in which we operate.  Our company is already at a huge competitive disadvantage to the slumlords.  We pay for our rental license, business priviledge license, BPT, NPT, fire alarm monitoring, alarm system inspections and fire extinguisher inspections.  The slumlords don’t.  Having to pay for all of these things while our competition does not puts us at a huge disadvantage.

That’s the great irony of this bill.  It only affects the 25% of landlords who play by the rules.  A landlord who doesn’t bother to get a rental license sure as heck isn’t going to pay for a lead test.  The only people doing lead testing will be the landlords with rental licenses, who tend to be the responsible landlords with properties in good condition.  You’re not going to catch any of the slumlords.  In fact, you’re going to help them by putting all of the good guys out of business with these added costs.

The inevitable result can be summed up in one word: Blight.  Our one company has renovated 43 properties this year in low-income neighborhoods.   That’s not much by itself, but collectively with all of the other responsible landlords and developers we represent the primary stabilizing force in the areas that we serve.  We renovate far more properties than the CDCs and the city.  The blighted homes that we purchase  are filled with mold, cracking paint, asbestos, roaches and mice.  There are often people living in these atrocious houses before we buy them, but you’ll never catch those owners with this bill because they’re under the radar.

I left a lucrative career in finance to build a business that would help the city that I love and serve the communities that most need help.  This bill, as written, will put an end to that.  It will prevent tens of millions of private investment dollars from flowing into the neighborhoods, destroy hundreds of jobs, and prevent hundreds of blighted houses from being restored.  It will hurt, not help, the overall health and wellbeing of low-income Philadelphians.  I implore you to take a close look at the practical implications of this bill, and find a more reasonable way of dealing with the lead paint issue.

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