As AxisPhilly has recently noticed, the recent FBI investigation of activities at the Sheriff’s Office has expanded past the troubled administration of Sheriff Green.

For this post we’re going to go back into the past a little bit and showcase a very important former employee of the Sheriff’s office: former chief deputy sheriff Janet A. Pina.

Pina worked many years under Sheriff John Green as one of the most senior staff members on the Sheriff’s real estate unit and was styled as Chief Deputy Sheriff.   [Fun fact:  Way back in 1990 none other than  Mark McDonald who is now Michael Nutter’s press secretary wrote this piece mentioning Pina as well as Sheriff Green’s award of no-bid contractors Reach Communications and RCS Searchers, since fired after Green left.]

Their website still has 461 N 3rd as their address, but the landlord evicted them
Their website still has 461 N 3rd as their address, but the landlord evicted them

In 2003 a company called The Tyler Firm, LLC was set up as a real estate services unit, established by Janet Pina and her husband Stephen Pina.  Its own website (here) explains what the company does beautifully:

Tyler website2Janet Pina along with Patricia West (another long time ex-Sheriffs employee) combined forces to consult for the Sheriff’s office after they stopped working for the Sheriff.  After John Green left, the Sheriff’s office inked a no-bid contract to do business with The Tyler Firm [AxisPhilly].

Quitting government work and going back to work as a consultant to the same employer certainly isn’t a novel concept, but it appears Pina isn’t having good luck with it.

Janet Pina’s Home Foreclosure

Pina’s financial troubles surface in 2009 when Governor’s Court Homeowners Association sued Ms. Pina and secured a judgement to the tune of $10,000 worth of fees and expenses.

In August of 2011 Wells Fargo bank filed a foreclosure suit against Stephen and Janet Pina’s home at 415 Brown Street in Northern Liberties.  The bank secured a judgement for $452,306.02.

In May of 2012 the house was then listed for Sheriff’s Sale and put out to auction according to court records.  Despite that, the deed is showing that possession reverted to Wells Fargo.  Whether the auction failed or the Sheriff’s office actually carried out the auction isn’t known.   [Law.com]

The Tyler Firm Gets Evicted From Its Headquarters

Just 11 days after Wells Fargo starts foreclosure on the Pina’s residence in Northern Liberties, the landlord leasing space to the Tyler Firm sues and secures a judgement against the company and Janet Pina. (below)

It’s in this suit that reveals Janet Pina has moved The Tyler Firm into her new apartment in the historic Alden Park apartment manors in Germantown.  Further lawsuits involving Pina then start pointing to the Germantown address from then on.

IRS and PA Revenue Department Start Slapping Pina With Liens

In January of 2010 the PA Department of Revenue hit Stephen and Janet Pina for $6000 in tax liens on their personal state income tax returns.

Then in 2010, not long after Pina was sued by her homeowner’s association, the IRS slaps her with a $42,000 income tax lien against her 2007 and 2008 tax returns.

And earlier this year in May the IRS hit Pina again for another $40,000.  Ouch.

Usually when someone sets up a line of contracting work with their former employer and builds a business model around that it’s a pretty lucrative deal.  But it appears for Pina that she got swept up in the wave of Great Recession bank foreclosures that swallowed up and spat out distressed homeowners.

That’s kind of ironic given that Janet Pina’s former job and her self-made company specialized in handling those very same foreclosures.

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Despite the fancy hat, the Office of Philadelphia Sheriff is not an actual law-enforcement agency
Despite the fancy hat, the Office of Philadelphia Sheriff is not an actual law-enforcement agency

Oh boy Sheriff Jewell Williams just can’t catch a break.  Isaiah Thompson at AxisPhilly has unearthed a bombshell:  remember when the FBI raided the Sheriff’s Office this summer and the office was quick to point the finger at disgraced former Sheriff Green?

Not. So. Fast.

The FBI is definitely investigating current Sheriff’s Office employees. [AxisPhilly]     In fact, while the office was busy lying to the public, it suspended Sheriff’s employee Michael J. Riverso.

The stress of FBI watching everything that goes on must be getting to the employees.  Sheriff’s clerk Barry Young was arrested for… impersonating a deputy Sheriff. [6ABC]

Yeah…  see kids?   In the movies a sheriff is a pretty important law enforcement job, but not in Philly where the only tasks our Sheriff does is bus prisoners to court (private security companies already do that stuff), guard Common Pleas court (private security companies already do that stuff), and then there’s the illicit cash cow:  the Real Estate Unit where stealing money and cooking the books is the normal means of carrying out the public trust.

What will it take to abolish the Sheriff’s Office? Another major media black eye to the City when the FBI is done investigating and a grand jury hands down indictments?

This isn’t a real law enforcement agency.  It doesn’t protect and serve the public; only their own asses.  It can’t even do the fucking small tasks assigned to it right. City Council: ABOLISH THIS OFFICE.

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Alfred Lubrano at the Inky has remarked on the findings of this Census survey reflecting a new pattern long-suspected since the 2010 census:  the hardest-hit poor are leaving Philadelphia.

Specifically in Philadelphia our numbers have slightly improved.   6% of the population of those in deep poverty, those living below the Federal poverty line, have abandoned Philadelphia.

Per-capita Philadelphia household income rose by $1,000 over the course of 2011 to 2012, a rise of 4.3% and median family income in Philadelphia jumped $2,000 a year, a eye-popping rise of 4%.  High income earners and immigrants have been replacing the native-born poor who have left.

The make-up of higher income families in Philly’s population has sharply increased.  From 2011 to 2012 in the Census survey, families making $100-150K jumped 3.8%, $150K-200K families increased by a whopping 13.14%, and those families earning over $200K climbed 22%.

There are now over 10,000 households in Philly earning over $200K which is unheard of.

Meanwhile, in South Jersey and Delaware County incomes have dropped and deep poverty has sharply increased, leading to theories that deep-poverty households are decamping for the suburban counties.

The Census statistics are clearly showing that displacement of poor is certainly happening in Philadelphia.    This also means that our tax base is recovering if not increasing in size and scope as the suburban counties shoulder a larger burden.   This is good news for the City as it’s easier to cut larger slices of a growing tax base pie amongst a shrinking base of poverty; the reverse is true for our suburban counterparts.

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Daniel Denvir put out this affordable housing piece in CityPaper yesterday chronicling the massive wait lists for PHA housing and the cathartic wait list for private-market affordable housing in Philadelphia.  It certainly is replete with daunting numbers and exasperations, but it also lacks details about some City policy that has helped reinforce the bad and done little to nothing to amplify the good.

Let’s dig in.

1.  Nobody agrees what the term ‘Affordable Housing’ actually means.

Philadelphia hasn’t defined or adopted a clear universal definition of what the various strata of affordable housing are.  Self-proclaimed policy experts, workers and boosters in this field have a variety of elaborate to succinct definitions of what affordable housing is.

From a personal finance perspective, if you’re living on your own and supporting yourself, then the amount you should be spending on housing and have enough room to budget the rest of your life should climb no higher than 1/3 of your annual budget, or 33% of your income.   This is true if you earn $30,000 as it would be if you earn $300,000 a year.   That guideline is based off conforming mortgage orginations and it’s a good yardstick for family sizes of 1 to 5.   If you blessed yourself with a family size of 18 you have larger problems to deal with.

At the bottom end of the income scales we start to get into the realm of the absurd.   If your income is $17,000 a year, $467/mo is all the housing you can afford.  There are plenty of inherited property owners in Philadelphia who have income levels this low and it’s why their houses are decaying all around them.   Even if you haven’t taken a mortgage out on the house you got for free, a $5,000 roof replacement will wipe you out.

At these income levels the only thing that makes sense is renting.  You can certainly rent single rooms for $467 and as low as $250 in Philadelphia, but renting whole houses or units inside make-shift rowhome-to-apartment conversions becomes an impossibility even in the worst of neighborhoods.   Anything below this income level in the private market you will be doubling or tripling up with other renters.

Construction costs, land costs and labor costs all dictate that new construction will never reach this income level or below it.  To pretend that it’s even possible is living in fantasy.  It’s certainly possible for those in the $30,000/yr income brackets and higher, but only through shortcuts and subsidies.  That is accomplished in Philly by a mix of non-union labor contractors, the City giving away land and direct subsidies when they come available, like the Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

The most logical and sustainable option for these low income levels is PHA or another entity that is sworn to carry the burden of property ownership and making all the repairs and maintenance to the property; meaning that the occupant of the property is “owner in name only”.  You can’t make a $17,000/yr income family responsible for an asset that comes with maintenance costs that will wipe out most of their annual income.   Replacing a roof costs thousands.   This is difficult to achieve and sustain, which is why there are very limited amounts of “faux-homeowners” in Philly.

2.  Private market affordable housing developers building to own don’t sell their housing to the “community” local politicians and boosters hold up in need of housing.

I’ve already shown you how affordable housing developers have been caught selling property they are developing at market rate levels.

Point Breeze is the greatest example of where this goes on.   Community Ventures has sold a couple properties, specifically 1628 and 1630 Federal Street, for $250,000.   With 100% loan to value assistance and low interest rates you still need an income of at least $55,000 to swing that, $65,000 to do it comfortably.   At $200,000 you could just go over and buy a market-rate house built by a typical developer.

Meanwhile, long-time Point Breeze residents have been fed lies over the years by the City and also by affordable housing boosters that affordable housing is coming their way.   The truth is:  nobody is ever going to build new construction sub-$100K homes in Point Breeze.   Not without heavy subsidies to a developer to pay the construction, labor and material costs.   And even if there were a limitless pot of Federal dollars selling $300K homes at $100K, people buying those homes would only be protected from real estate taxes for 10 years until their abatements expire.

Even with the units being sold at $125K, the sustainability question doesn’t go away.   Ultra-low income property owners can’t afford to pay prices to maintain their property.  This solution only works for the classes of income in the higher end of the working classes.

The affordable housing developers building to-own houses in Point Breeze already know this reality, and so do the politicians and City agencies working on affordable housing.

Residents currently renting or doubling-up in Point Breeze in sub-$800/mo rentals expecting a home to come their way will continue to be disappointed.

3.  The City of Philadelphia has ignored REO Houses

This is the biggest tragedy and the greatest lost opportunity of the Great Recession.  Two sections of Philadelphia, the Oak Lanes and the Lower Northeast, had a ton of home foreclosures which then turned into bank-owned or what’s known as “Real Estate Owned” property.

These sections of the City just prior to the recession had high homeownership rates and were the most in need of support as the subprime lending crisis swept across the country.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program which the Obama administration pressed into existence during his first term as President is a grant program specifically intended to mitigate the damage to communities across America ravaged by foreclosure.  As Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have taken possession of property, NSP grant funding could have been used along with the hammer of accelerated tax foreclosure to pull these properties out of limbo, quickly rehab the properties for far less than the cost of new construction and recycle the foreclosures back into the market as affordable housing.

The City refused to entertain such an idea and instead blew all the money on new construction in a couple neighborhoods closer to Center City.

Instead of getting help, East and West Oak Lane plus the entire Lower Northeast have been left to float in the breeze, then left its housing stock to be snapped up by outside investors who quickly convert the housing to rental.  The fast conversion from home-owner occupied to absentee rental is now leading the decline of property values throughout these sections of Philadelphia, further eroding the tax base.

Existing homeowners who have held on to their property have been rewarded with increased quality of life problems and a deteriorating asset.  If it’s any consolation, most of these property owners have been reassessed downward and will be getting cheaper property tax bills this December.

4.  The City’s Land Disposition Processes is the Slowest in the Entire Galaxy

The City of Philadelphia fails miserably managing real estate because it simply doesn’t understand it.  Similarly, it doesn’t know which of its several thousand properties it owns is worth money and could sell for quite well.

Land Bank is a potential step in the right direction by making the disposition process more formal and much more visible than it is now.

Currently the process involves half a dozen agencies, secret emails the public doesn’t get to see, and meetings of the Vacant Property Review Committee that the public isn’t invited to, plus the 10 District Councilmembers whose favor has to be curried from property buyers first.   Even now when you put in an Expression Of Interest Form to the City, the request goes into a black hole.  If the City doesn’t want to sell a property, it won’t tell you the reason, unless of course it turns into a giant shitshow.

This process means the City takes on more land that it gets off its books.  Some members of City Council don’t mind that at all since they can freely give out desirable property to favored constituents who will then sing their praises.

In the long term that isn’t sustainable and it also severely drains City funds and in market-rate neighborhoods the slow dispensation of land actually presses up the price of available private land and improvements.   The City experienced this phenomena in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood in the mid 2000s when PHA and the City were both assembling and reserving blocks of parcels which tightened the supply of private market housing.   Condo prices near South Street zoomed to $700,000 while just a few blocks away were trash-strewn empty lots closer to Washington Avenue.

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5.  The City Doesn’t Believe In Infill Development or Rolling Over Sales

Another opportunity the City of Philadelphia will never explore or entertain is the idea of selling property for market-rate development at less than premium and using that to finance affordable housing development or co-developing with PHA.

For instance, if the City sells 100 lots to the private market at $14,000 per lot, it won’t use the $1,400,000 to build affordable housing on another 20 lots it owns in some other section of town or roll it into a development subsidy for affordable housing.  Likewise, it won’t “co-develop” with PHA, where the City transfers proceeds of its own sales over to PHA and let the real experts in affordable public housing come up with a solution for those funds.

Instead, the City would rather just not sell the properties at all and if and when it does, it gets tossed into the General Fund where the City pays its regular expenses.

A much cheaper option than new construction is an infill redevelopment program where recent abandoned homes are rehabbed and adjacent vacant properties are in-filled with new construction and then marked at break-even prices so the mortgages to purchase are well within affordable levels for the working classes.

Nope, the City will never do that either.

 

So, what are affordable housing boosters left to do?  Pray for a shower of Federal money that will never come.

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This morning NakedPhilly posted up an OCF Realty project:  50 new homes planned for 20th and Wharton.

I think I can already predict how this is going to go down.  Shall we?

1.  The anti-development group Point Breeze Organizing Committee will be making a stink at the zoning meeting planned at South Philadelphia HOMES, Inc., the zoning RCO for the area.

2.  Point Breeze neighbors between now and Sunday will be bombarded with racist vitriol in their letterboxes coming from PBOC and Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze at how the demolition of old crappy industrial buildings for a new block of 50 homes will spell the end of the universe as we know it.

3.  Since Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze is now a Registered Community Organization thanks to special changes to the zoning code at the request of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, they will refuse to meet with OCF Realty then run to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and claim the developer never met with them and they weren’t told about the project.   Basically:  lie through their teeth as a delay tactic.

4.  We’ll reserve No. 4 in case it happens.

5.  And if somehow the ZBA approves this project, then Concerned Citizens founder Tiffany Green will try to appeal the ZBA through Common Pleas court by filing in forma pauperis without a lawyer, so city taxpayers get to fund a year-long shit show of a court case where if it ever gets to the merits, she’ll probably claim that new market rate homes give babies cancer or some other similar nonsense.    Ms. Green does not live in Point Breeze but has appeared in Common Pleas court repeatedly trying this tactic on a number of development projects in Point Breeze.  She is currently appealing the ZBA’s decision in favor of a similar-sized development on the 2200 block of Alter Street.   The address she listed with the court as her home in Point Breeze does not belong to her.

 

Since daytime soap operas were mostly all-canceled years ago, if you’re in for some drama to watch, head on down to Point Breeze Monday night for what’s sure to be a packed and heated meeting.

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