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November 18, 2022

Proposal would change Philadelphia's residency requirements for civil service jobs

The bill, introduced by City Councilmember Helen Gym, would give employees six months after getting hired to move to the city

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Civil service residency requirement Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

City Councilmember Helen Gym proposed a revision to the city's civil service residency requirement, which calls for employees to live in Philadelphia for a year prior to employment.

A proposed revision to Philadelphia's residency requirements for civil service jobs may soon help the city fill thousands of vacancies.

During Thursday's City Council meeting, Councilmember Helen Gym introduced legislation that she says would accelerate the city's recruiting capabilities by allowing city civil service employees to find a Philadelphia address within six months of employment. Currently, city workers must have a year of residency in Philly.

This legislation would cover all civil service employees, including blue-collar and white-collar positions, and the city's municipal unions are backing the bill. It will apply to jobs that require civil service tests and those that don't.

According to a Gym spokesperson, there are currently over 4,000 vacancies, nearly 15% of the municipal workforce.

"Filling city vacancies is a matter of public safety. This is about ensuring every city agency, and every department, is functioning at full capacity to meet the needs of every neighborhood in our city," Gym said. "It is vital that we continue to build a world-class city workforce that both reflects our communities and delivers on basic city services. Today's legislation will help us do just that and place Philadelphia back among our peers in our ability to recruit and retain talent as a major city."

The city's current work residency requirements were proposed and passed in 2020, shortly after the city and country experienced an uptick in civil uprisings following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. That bill was designed to improve the diversity and demographics of the Philadelphia Police Department.

City Council President Darrell Clarke was and still is a strong proponent of the year-long residency mandate. If Philadelphia can't find qualified residents to fulfill the open positions, he says, the city has other problems it needs to address. 

Clarke told the Inquirer, "I'm not sure if (Gym's) bill was based on the reality as it relates to being able to hire individuals in the city of Philadelphia, particularly residents; or if it was based on civil service requirements; or if it was based on politics," Clarke said. "I got elected to represent the city of Philadelphia residents. I didn't get elected to represent speculative residents of the city of Philadelphia."

According to PEW, 81% of Philadelphia's 30,000 jobs are civil service positions. Philly is an outlier among the 30 largest cities in the country with its residence requirement.

"We strongly believe that city workers should be city residents, but the requirement that a prospective employee lives in Philadelphia for a full year before their appointment shrinks the applicant pool in the middle of a staffing crisis that's affecting public services," Pat Christmas, Committee of 70 Policy Director, said. "We applaud Councilmember Gym for re-examining this important issue and taking action to help ensure Philadelphians get the most from their city government."

Mayor Jim Kenney opposed the bill that implemented the year-long requirement; the ordinance passed without his signature. 

"It's basically like saying you can only play for the Phillies if you grew up in Philadelphia," Kenney said.

In April, Philadelphia waived the residency requirement for law enforcement as the city struggled to fill police vacancies. At the time, the Philadelphia Police Department was 1,000 officers short of its budgeted amount, including 400 outright vacancies and more than 500 off-duty officers not working due to injury claims. Similar to Gym's proposal for city civil service jobs, the law enforcement change allowed prospective officers out of the city to be recruited. Still, they must move to Philly within six months of their employment.

On Election Day this month, Philadelphians voted in support of a ballot question to give students who graduate from vo-tech schools preference when applying for city jobs. 

Six City Council members co-sponsored the bill, and a seventh, David Oh, said he is likely to vote in favor of it, the Inquirer reported.