In June 2020, Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance requiring all new hires for civil service positions to have lived in the city for at least a year prior to being appointed, making Philadelphia the only city among the nation’s 30 most populous to have such a strict mandate. Mayor Jim Kenney allowed the ordinance to go into effect without his signature.
This rule for civil service, which covers 81% of the roughly 30,000 positions in Philadelphia city government, was proposed after the protests over the death of George Floyd, who died during an arrest in Minneapolis. Some residency requirement backers expressed hope that it would produce a more diverse group of incoming police officers, in particular. The Philadelphia Police Department is 55% non-Hispanic White, 33% Black, and 9% Hispanic, while the city’s population is 34% non-Hispanic White, 40% Black, and 15% Hispanic.
Residency requirements for municipal jobs are not uncommon in large American cities, although many, particularly in the South and West, do not have them. Some mandate that jobholders establish residency on their start dates or within weeks or months of their appointment. That had been the case in Philadelphia since 2008, with the time period set at six months in most cases. Those applying for laborer positions had to have been residents for at least one year before starting. And individuals must continue to live in the city to keep their jobs, although police officers and firefighters are permitted to move out after five years.
Table 1 shows the residency policies in each of the 30 most populous U.S. cities, listed from largest to smallest. In 12 of them, state law prevents residency requirements; that’s the case in California, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas. Denver, which previously had a residency requirement, eliminated it to enhance competitive recruitment. Other cities, including Baltimore and Washington, restrict their residency requirements to certain job classes or salary bands. Most residency requirements take effect after a new employee starts working.
Besides Philadelphia, Boston is the only one of the 30 cities to require any employees to live in the city for a year prior to appointment—but that applies only to police officers. This rule was adopted in March 2016 after the mayor and City Council formed a special commission in response to a 2014 newspaper investigation, which found that police command staff and other city department leaders were living outside Boston despite a residency requirement. At the time, only some municipal employees were required to live within city limits.
Boston’s 2016 ordinance requires police officers to be city residents for at least a year prior to appointment. Nearly all other city employees must be residents by their appointment date.
Philadelphia is not the only city to consider changing its residency requirement in response to the deaths of Floyd and others killed by police. In Detroit, Council President Brenda Jones wanted to do it for police officers: “If the young people see officers living in their community, it gives them an opportunity to say, ‘I want to be like Chief [Robert] Dunlap.’ … With no law enforcement living in their community, … they don’t have that mentorship.” But Detroit cannot impose such a requirement without the state Legislature’s permission.
In Baltimore, changes to residency requirements must be enacted by the Maryland General Assembly. A new state law taking effect in January 2022 will require all Baltimore police command staff members at the rank of colonel or deputy commissioner to live in the city after their start date.
Philadelphia’s rule change, proposed by Councilmember Cherelle Parker on Council President Darrell Clarke’s behalf, was adopted by a 16-1 vote. In a statement on the bill, Clarke, Parker, and fellow Councilmembers Curtis Jones Jr. and Mark Squilla said they had the police department in mind. They noted that the move “will not be a ‘silver bullet’ in curing [the department’s] long-entrenched systemic issues, but it’s a step in the right direction. … If they must look to hire from within the city’s borders and commit to their diversity goal, they have a chance at improving the culture within the force.” Waivers are an option if the city can’t find qualified Philadelphians for specific jobs. But Parker said if that happens in a city with nearly 1.6 million residents, “Shame on us.”
Pew explored the city’s employment practices in the 2018 report “Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia City Government.” At the time, Philadelphia had some of the strictest civil service hiring rules of any large U.S. city, including the Rule of Two, which requires hiring managers to choose between the top two scorers on a civil service exam.
Until the first decade of this century, Philadelphia and other U.S. cities had a one-year residency requirement for job candidates. But many abandoned this approach—as Philadelphia did in 2008—to create a larger applicant pool and more competitive hiring. By reverting to the old rule, Philadelphia now becomes an outlier.