The dream of creating a central land bank to deal with Philadelphias epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties has taken several key steps toward fruition in recent weeks.
This article is from May, but after my meeting yesterday with L&I, I am reminded that this program is out there and beginning to bear fruit.
L&I: Blight Court starting to see success
Over the past few months, some of Philly’s ugliest buildings with plywood-covered door and window openings have begun to blossom with pretty pink L&I notices that they’re in violation of the City’s Windows and Doors policy. And some of them have actually been fixed up. At today’s City Council Legislative Oversight Committee hearing, Department of Licenses & Inspections spokeswoman Maura Kennedy reported that the 6-month-old campaign to take violators to “Blight Court” is showing returns. She said there’s been a 35 percent compliance rate in installing the required facade fixes, and 100 properties have been sold by owners who cant or don’t want to bother with bringing their buildings up to code. L&I is also beginning to take properties with L&I liens to sheriffs sale when necessary, and has stepped up the average time for sealing a nuisance property from 10 months in 2007 to 10 days today.
TWO ICONIC buildings on North Broad Street apparently are now in the hands of the same developer.
Eric Blumenfeld has reacquired the Divine Lorraine Hotel and has reached an agreement to develop the nearby Metropolitan Opera House as well, he said Tuesday.
Blumenfeld took title of the abandoned hotel, a blighted beauty targeted by vandals for years, at a sheriff’s sale Tuesday. Construction is to begin in January to convert the 10-story building into 125 loft apartments on the upper floors and new restaurants on the first two floors.
“I’m working with [restaurateurs] Marc Vetri and Jose Garces and I’m hoping to have a third [restaurant owner] as well,” Blumenfeld said.
On Monday, in the first stage of taking control of the Divine Lorraine, Blumenfeld purchased outstanding debt from New York-based Amalgamated Bank.
Blumenfeld declined to say how much he paid for the note, but the Inquirer put the value of the mortgage, back city taxes and other liens at more than $8 million.
The Divine Lorraine, at Fairmount Avenue, was built in 1892 as the luxury Lorraine Apartments and was one of the city’s first high-rises for the wealthy. Years later, it was the first Philadelphia hotel to be racially integrated.
Blumenfeld said reacquiring the hotel – which he had bought before in 2003 for $5.8 million and then sold to a group of developers in 2006 – is key to remaking North Broad. “The Divine Lorraine represents the real transformation of the corridor,” he said.
Blumenfeld already has put his stamp on North Broad by developing two apartment buildings and several restaurants in or near former clothing factories north of Spring Garden Street.
Now, he said, he is working with the owners of the Metropolitan Opera House, at Poplar Street, to come up with a plan to bring the old opera house back to life.
“I never shy away from a challenge,” Blumenfeld said.
He said he signed a partnership agreement with the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center, which owns the Met, in the past couple of months.
The church’s pastor, Rev. Mark Hatcher, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Divine Lorraine got its name after the charismatic preacher, Father Divine, bought the Lorraine Hotel in 1948.
This vacant lot is cleaned twice a year and only after a multitude of calls to 311 from residents of this block. The last time this lot was cleaned by the city was 02/12. The weeds are in excess of 4 feet. There is garbage and animal waste everywhere. A family of feral cats has taken up residence. The flies are so thick that one has to use the sidewalk on the other side of the street. The owner is neither disabled nor elderly and lives .8 miles from this lot. There is no reason that this lot cannot be kept clean. It is an eyesore and a health hazard.
The OPA indicates this property was purchased in 2010 by for $5,600 and the taxes are current. Likely an investor owns this waiting for more progress in the neighborhood.
I recommend you contact the Vacant Property Strategy Unit in L&I and make them aware of the situation (if you haven’t already).
In October of 2011, the Department launched a new initiative as, part of a larger program led by the Managing Directors Office and the Finance Directors Office, regarding how both City and privately owned vacant property is bought, sold, and maintained.
The Department identified approximately 25,000 structures in its database that were believed to be vacant because the owner had either obtained a vacant property license, or had been cited for violations that are the likely indicators of vacancy. The Department mapped these properties, and depending on the market conditions of the overall neighborhood, planned to use a variety of legal tools to hold owners for the state of their properties.
Having identified these properties, the Departments current initiative is characterized by three main objectives.
- Finding the Right Owners: In the past, the City faced difficulties in holding private property owners responsible for the conditions of their blighted or vacant properties. In its current initiative, the Department is using a dedicated team of researchers to cross-reference several databases to find good names and addresses for the owners of vacant properties.
- Utilizing New Enforcement Measures: The Department now enforces the “doors and windows” ordinance passed by Philadelphia City Council that allows the Department to ask the court to find owners $300 per day per opening that is not covered with a functional door or window. In addition, State Act 90 allows the department to ask the court to attach these potentially high dollar fines to owner’s personal property.
- Dedicating Court Time: In the past enforcement, efforts had run into difficulties getting cases into the court system. In its current initiative, the Department has worked alongside with the City of Philadelphia Law Department and Judge Bradley Moss to dedicate court dates exclusively to address vacant cases. This ensures that these cases flow through the legal process quickly.
Through efforts so far, the Department will collect over $1,000,000 in license and permit fees, fines, and unpaid taxes.
From a neighbor:
I have been living next to this eyesore for 6 years now with my husband. The owner, a man who we’ve spoken to numerous times, has refused to do anything with this property. Our neighbors have pled with him to sell it, fought with him to clean up the overgrowth year after year and even called him for animals being trapped in the property. Recently, we had vandals break into the property to steal copper piping. Frankly I’m surprised it took this long for people to break in. I credit the delay only to our diligent neighbors and the burden that watching this property has taken on them.
One such neighbor has taken this person to court a number of years ago but I’m not sure what if anything came of the legal action. I’m also not sure what recourse my husband and I have to make this person responsible for this property and its maintenance. My husband and I anticipate trying to sell our house at some point and our property value is perpetually diminishing with each day that this owner takes no action. I’d like to call L&I but know what a bureaucratic mess it can be sometimes. If anyone can give us any helpful information as to how we can get some results, we’d be extremely grateful.
Frustrated and Fed Up
From a Citizen who wants to see this property cleaned up:
This property is located in the deeded community of North Woods. Recently a shirtless man was seen in the home, all windows have been bashed out and the doors are broken open. There are many children in the neighborhood and Edmunds elementary school is located around the corner. This is a nice neighborhood and it is very upsetting to see a property abandoned like this.
We suggest you call Licenses and Inspections (dial 311) and report the property as unsafe. If you get no response, call your Ward Leader and/or City Councilperson – Maria Quinones-Sanchez – until appropriate action is taken.
Thanks for contributing to Abandoned Philadelphia!
From a Citizen who wants to see this property cleaned up:
Not only does it need to be cleaned up, but the doors are broken, the outside is a mess and the steps are broken. No one is living in the house nor do they come to make sure its ok. It is really an eyesore. Don’t even know if someone could be inside. You need to see it to believe it.
Submitted by a Citizen, who would like to see the property cleaned up.
Owners: Evelyn & Vivian C. Jenkins
Their address listed is not this property.
Date of last sale: 10/5/1981 for $1
Taxes Due: $17,576, last paid in 1994 (according to the OPA)
Without going into much research, we would guess the current owners inherited the property, and then either moved away and/or died.
If this property is unsafe and/or causing a public nuisance, contact Licenses and Inspections (dial 311), your Block Captain, Ward Leader, City Council person. Make noise until someone takes action.
This map is the Redevelopment Authority’s go-to site for anyone wanting to make an “Expression of Interest” to buy City-Owned property. It is not clear exactly how this effort will pan out and whether political influence is still required. The current system requires that anyone wanting to buy a vacant City-owned parcel would typically go to the Vacant Property Review Committee and present their case. Support form the Council member in whose district the property was located was essential to an approval from the VPRC.
Anyone out there have any success buying from the City?
From a Citizen:
The current owner of the house has not come to check up on the place for at least 5 months, there are no doors, the stench is unbearable and at night since there is no security who knows what that house is being used for.
Abandoned Philadelphia Writes:
Owners: Jeffrey and Victoria Vogel
The Deed recites that the property was purchased on April 15, 1999 from Victoria Vogel’s mother, Yvette Halawani. Although executed in 1999, the deed was not recorded in the Philadelphia Recorder of Deeds until August 6, 2004. Curious. We have often wondered why someone would execute a deed and not bother to record it until years later.
Purchase Price $10,000
The really interesting thing about this property is that it was bought for $10,000 in 1999, the deed recorded in August 2004, and in November 2004 a lender put a $51,600 mortgage on it. I wonder if the mortgage is current?
The Vogels’ home address, as listed in 2004, shows more than $11,000 in back taxes.
We suggest immediate and repeated calls to Licenses and Inspections, City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, 49th Ward Leader (Democratic-Shirley Gregory (215) 389-4627, Republican-Elizabeth Blong (215) 329-7248) , Block Captain, anyone else willing to listen, to get the City take appropriate action in addressing the safety issues.
Thanks for the reader submission, but the address submitted, 3748 Palaski Street, does not exist in Philadelphia. There is a Pulaski Avenue, but no address 3748.
Please, readers, be sure to get the address right. You can always check an address at the City’s Office of Property Assessment site, found HERE. Once on the site, you will see much useful information about the owner, when the property last sold, and the current taxes.
Well, wonder no more. This is another piece of fantastic work by PlanPhillly and Patrick Kerkstra.
City’s “Front Door” Cracks Open
At last, the city’s enormous inventory of mostly vacant surplus land is being made available online for would-be buyers.
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s “Front Door” – essentially a database and map of the city’s property holdings, coupled with a streamlined sales process – has been in the works for over a year and a half. Some of it goes live today, albeit in a limited form, on the PRA’s website.
The initiative – which won’t be formally launched until next month – represents the Nutter administration’s most notable achievement to date in Philadelphia’s long-running fight against blight.
There are an estimated 40,000 vacant parcels in Philadelphia, empty lots and abandoned buildings that depress property values, mar neighborhoods and pose safety risks. Of those, more than 12,000 are owned by city-related agencies.
Before the Front Door, would-be buyers of those city owned lots were forced to navigate a confusing bureaucratic thicket of city land-holding agencies with conflicting policies and agendas, without the benefit of a written rulebook.
Now, the Nutter administration contends, developers, non-profits and average residents will be able to easily submit applications to purchase city owned vacant properties through the PRA’s Front Door. And the entire process will be governed by a new policy document (which has been previously reported on by PlanPhilly).
“What’s different about this (policy) is that it exists. There are no policy documents that exist right now for the disposition of land certainly none that are consistent, none that are comprehensive,” said Bridget Greenwald, the new commissioner of the city’s Public Property department.
Check out the map and more here: City’s “Front Door” cracks open | PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future.
From the Philadelphia OPA: http://www.phila.gov/revenue/RealEstateTax/Default.aspx?txtBRTNo=111221500
Owner – Gertrude Sayles
Real Estate Tax Balance Information
|TOTALS THROUGH 03/30/2012||$3,603.15||$1,446.34||$218.74||$1,087.07||$6,355.30|
According to the public records:
Owner: Frank Williams
Taxes due: $18,199
Last paid: 1985
This property was conveyed to the current owner in 1985 for $1 by Earl D. Springer, legatee under the Will of Raymond E. Springer . It appears taxes have not been paid on this property since it was conveyed.
According to Zillow, there is activity in this neighborhood. See Zillow report here.
For information about this or any other topics concerning abandoned and/or vacant property in Philadelphia, contact Abandoned Philadelphia at (215) 592-9595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.