Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office’ Category

The NY Times takes notice of Philadelphia’s Land Bank plan.

via Philadelphia Forges Plan to Rebuild From Decay – NYTimes.com.

Philadelphia Forges Plan to Rebuild From Decay

Mark Makela for The New York Times

An estimated 40,000 vacant, derelict or underused buildings and lots — both publicly and privately owned — that are candidates for the Philadelphia’s new Land Bank, an ambitious program that is the latest effort to clear up blighted neighborhoods.

By JON HURDLE

Published: December 31, 2013

PHILADELPHIA — On a desolate North Philadelphia street, an isolated block of five Victorian rowhouses is surrounded by vacant lots and a commuter rail line.

All but one of the two-story houses are vacant; burn marks outline boarded-up windows and a door on one building, and two display metal signs announcing they are up for property auction by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The open rear entryway of one reveals a mess of bedding on a sheet of plywood, suggesting the derelict property does in fact have an occupant.

The city lists the market value of each empty house at $27,900.

The houses, little more than a mile from downtown Philadelphia, are among an estimated 40,000 vacant, derelict or underused buildings and lots — both publicly and privately owned — that are candidates for the city’s new Land Bank, an ambitious program that is the latest effort to clear up blighted neighborhoods.

Philadelphia, with a population of about 1.5 million, is the largest American city to adopt a land bank, experts said, and could become a model for other cities like Detroit that have an even bigger problem with vacant property.

While land banks have been around for several decades, including one in St. Louis that was set up in the 1970s, several dozen exist now, with newer versions emerging in places like Syracuse and Macon, Ga.

Supporters point to success stories elsewhere.

For example, in Flint, Mich., Saginaw Street has been transformed into a busy commercial and residential center after the local land bank’s acquisition of three buildings that had been vacant for as long as 30 years, said Frank Alexander, a professor of real estate law at Emory University and an author of land bank laws in many cities.

The street “bears almost no resemblance to what it was 15 years ago,” Mr. Alexander said. “The land bank was able, by addressing the worst properties, to accomplish catalytic transformation.”

But not all land banks have succeeded. Critics are concerned about a provision in the ordinance creating the Philadelphia Land Bank that requires City Council approval for all sales, saying that could delay the disposal of properties and bog down redevelopment. An early land bank in Cleveland failed, for example, because it required legislators to sign off on all acquisitions and dispositions, Mr. Alexander said.

“If the City Council ends up delegating and deferring to the board of directors of the land bank, then it can move pretty well,” Mr. Alexander said. “But if it says ‘We want to hold hearings on every acquisition and disposition,’ then it will very quickly grind to a halt.”

And it takes time to assemble buildings and land that are attractive to developers, said Kelly Clarke, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“It’s not always about getting properties sold quickly,” said Ms. Clarke, who said her organization had sold about 50 homes, demolished 40 others and sold about 150 empty lots since it was established in 2009.

Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, which has helped lead the Land Bank initiative, said he believed it would offer developers a much easier process to navigate. Previously, developers sometimes walked away from potential projects if they had to acquire land or buildings from different city agencies with different requirements. Many of these vacant properties can be found on several agencies’ books.

The new city ordinance aims to consolidate ownership of the properties under the roof of the Land Bank. And to encourage developers to buy through one-stop shopping, the city ordinance also gives the Land Bank power to acquire title to privately owned vacant properties if they are delinquent in taxes. Officials said about three-quarters of Philadelphia’s vacant properties were privately owned and many were behind on taxes. That has deterred prospective buyers who have trouble tracking down owners of long-abandoned properties or dealing with liens on the buildings.

Once the Land Bank is operational later this year, developers will be in a better position to take control of whole blocks that currently show a “gap-tooth” patchwork of public and private buildings and land, proponents say.

 

Talk about unintended consequences…with the controversy surrounding the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), the folks in City Hall are coming up with all manner of suggestions on how to collect those millions of dollars languishing in the City’s real estate taxes.  As we all know, the tens of thousands of properties in Philadelphia contributing to blight are largely the same owing millions of dollars in unpaid real estate taxes.

At a legislative briefing yesterday attended by several Council members, several proposals to collect unpaid taxes were brought up, apparently some of which are already being discussed in City and Commonwealth chambers.  Any reform in tax collections will necessarily address the blight problem, as tax-delinquent properties will as a result be sold and developed into productive real estate.

The most cogent of these proposals involves Philadelphia selling its tax liens.  No, not the way it was attempted in the past, with a huge block of liens being sold to one buyer.  That negotiated transaction is so typically Philadelphia. The deal didn’t work for a variety of reasons, depending on who you talk to.

Alan Domb, as astute and established as they come, made a very compelling argument for Philadelphia to begin selling its tax liens to private investors in an open auction, much the same as New Jersey and other states.  Under this model, anyone would be able buy tax liens with a built-in investment return, and the market for Philadelphia’s old tax debt would very quickly be cleared.

Full disclosure: As someone who has bought and put into productive use many properties with ancient debt, I would be thrilled to buy old taxes, because there are so many properties encumbered with debt where the owners are so long gone even our researchers throw up their hands in hopes of ever finding someone to buy from.

Other proposals being talked about are less promising.  Relying on the current collections companies to collect more taxes is pointless.  These agencies can’t even find owners for the current properties, as doing so takes real research and ingenuity.  Attempting to attach to investors other properties is equally futile, as anyone can hold properties in unrelated entities, making verification of ownership impossible.  Relying on the Sheriff Sale process is, well, if you think the AVI calculation is clouded in secrecy, try to fathom how the Sheriff’s office operates.  Enough said.

Tax lien sales is the only way to efficiently clear out all the old debt, and prevent a similar situation in the future.

The causes, costs, and effects of property tax delinquency – detailed in this week’s PlanPhilly/Inquirer investigative series -
are staggering. Here’s a by-the-numbers breakdown of the city’s complex tax delinquency issues in bite-sized (albeit stomach-turning) bits.

Read more: Ravaged by Neglect.

 

Kromer seems to be in a position to address the abandoned property situation in Philadelphia.  As an expert in the field, he is certainly more qualified than the recently departed and the current acting Sheriff.

John Kromer – Philadelphia’s Next and Last Sheriff?.

One of the major reasons there are so many abandoned properties in Philadelphia.

Major Shakeup In Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office « CBS Philly – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of Philadelphia.