Construction in Passyunk Square, 2019

Your support is key 🔑

70% of our budget comes from individual members, making our work possible without paywalls.

Will you join us?

? Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


On election night, a familiar result came in: Philly’s charter change ballot questions passed across the board.

But somewhat surprisingly, the removal of gendered language from the city’s governing documents proved to be the most contested. Tthe gendered language removal questions — No. 2 and No. 3 — were opposed by around 35% of voters.

The second-most controversial question had to do with changing the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. But despite a push by some residents to have voters reject question No. 1, only 29% of Philadelphians voted “no.”

Question No. 4 was most unanimous, with only 19% of voters voting against the measure to enshrine the Fair Housing Commission in the Home Rule Charter.

The second and third questions specifically asked voters whether they wanted gender-based references removed from the Home Rule Charter and its education supplement. The changes build upon the 2019 vote to make language referring to city councilmembers gender-neutral in the charter — but instead, they scrub the document of male-centric references throughout the entire document, like “fireman” and “policeman,” as well as the male pronouns to refer to the mayor, school superintendent, and other positions of power.

The zoning board question, which was viewed as the most contentious measure on the ballot in the lead-up to the election, asked voters whether they wanted to see the five-member independent commission increased to seven members, all of whom would require approval from City Council. (Currently, the mayor gets to appoint members without Council confirmation.)

Due to the question’s approval, there are now new “qualifications” to be a member — meaning the board has to have an urban planner, architect, lawyer with zoning experience, someone who’s worked in the construction industry, and at least two community organization leaders.

Council unanimously passed the bill to get the question on the ballot, and some community activists support the measure because they like the idea of giving neighborhoods a better chance to weigh in on zoning issues.

But the question has also sparked worries that changes could potentially slow development in the city. The Kenney administration opposed the effort for this reason, and Mo Rushdy, the treasurer of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, voiced similar concerns.

The professional requirements could also create more frequent conflicts of interest for board members and force recusals, therefore making it difficult to reach the quorum needed for decisions, Department of Planning and Development Director Anne Fadullon told City Council.

Some urban activists waged a campaign to get people to vote “no” with vigor rarely seen on charter change questions. In their view, the move would just add more bureaucracy to the picture and hand more power to City Council without addressing the city’s affordable housing situation.

The fourth question gave voters the option to make the Fair Housing Commission permanent. The board — which includes five mayor-appointed members who enforce Philadelphia’s fair housing regulations — has existed since 1962, but up to this point, City Council could have theoretically dissolved it if it wanted to. But once it’s added to the Home Rule Charter, the process to get rid of it wouldn’t be that simple.

Avatar photo

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...