Citizen Planner Drew Miller (Spring 2021) had to be his own advocate when disruptive construction started next door. Now, he advocates for homeowners and transparency from developers as part of his career.
Drew was working evenings at a restaurant when construction started next door to his home in Fishtown. He wasn’t given notice that a project was starting, or any timeline or expectations for how his home would be impacted by the work. There was no contact information on the demolition notice posted on the property, so Drew had to figure out his rights and the resources available by himself.
He started by researching the Philadelphia building code and bulletins issued by the department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). The situation worsened when Drew’s home was damaged because of the construction next door. Without the support of the developer, and unable to afford a lawyer, Drew needed to learn on his own how to make repairs. He had to read engineering drawings, negotiate and draft an access agreement, get his house declared “unsafe” by L&I, manage a construction project, and deal with homeowner’s insurance adjusters.
Luckily, his schedule and a bit of financial stability allowed Drew to monitor the construction without having to miss work. Many of his neighbors aren’t in the same position.
There are a number of situations I've seen where people would come home, and their home was damaged. They didn't know what happened. Like, ‘I was at work... Why didn't anybody tell me what was happening here? That this damage was even a remote possibility?’ Drew Miller
Drew decided to use his time, along with his new skills and resources, to help his neighbors. He supported others with adjacent construction issues on an individual level, and worked with the Riverwards L&I Coalition to educate and organize his community. The coalition even helped to get a bill introduced to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that included an Adjacent Neighbor’s Bill of Rights, which is currently working its way through the legislative process. By working with organizations, politicians, and other partners across Philadelphia, Drew was able to turn his passion project into a career. Now, he works at Community Legal Services as a paralegal, helping protect homeowners facing many types of legal problems.
I was like, I see a need here. And I need to do something about this or it's going to bother me continuously. Drew Miller
CPI helped Drew to see the full picture of development across the city:
“There’s city planners working on this part of it. There are zoning committees that supplement that in each neighborhood. And then there’s other people working on different issues that are all kind of connected.”
But CPI was also a tool for building connection.
“I think one of the things that I’ve appreciated most about CPI is it was one of the first things that really connected me to a network that was fully citywide. It was very encouraging. There’s a lot of bad news in the world, and it’s nice to know that there’s a group of folks that that truly care and want to do what they can to improve things.”
His experience with CPI has brought him full circle. The networks and knowledge he gained are helping propel his advocacy. He also gets to watch the projects he learned about unfold in real-time. During his CPI course, Drew’s cohort learned about the SEPTA redesign happening at the transit hub at Broad and Erie. Now, his office building sits at that corner. He can see first-hand the conditions he discussed with his cohort, and can imagine a different future for the intersection.
Drew helping clients prepare public testimony at Community Legal Services
For Drew, advocacy needs to focus on getting people resources to be their own advocates.
“People having access to the information they need is most of the work. You know, once you empower somebody, like, OK, here is the information that will help you figure out the path to fix the problem… Then they can put in the work because they’re already passionate about it. If you can deliver them the information about what they can do about it, they can build the coalition and advocate for change, or do the project themselves with a group of people that care about it.”
Drew is doing his part to break down barriers to information to support the rights of his neighbors and fellow Philadelphians.