From the moment you walk out your front door to wherever it is you’re going, the state of every one of Philadelphia’s 500K parcels affects you to some degree. In some ways it could just be small eyesores like graffiti. In other ways it could be open air drug dealing run out of a problem property that puts your entire block at risk.
Philadelinquency is a unique place that covers the ceaseless battle of property vacancy, Real Estate Tax delinquency, blight and the struggle to correct these problems and heal Philadelphia.
Philadelphia has suffered a 56 year long history of decay and decline, beginning around 1955 when our city reached its maximum population of 2 million people. Since then, a long and complicated history of white flight (which still continues today), the end of redlining, suburbanization, the ’80s crack epidemic, failed public schools and a host of other problems has culminated into a complex tapestry of blight that is woven into every neighborhood in Philadelphia.
But that period seems to be coming to a close. Philadelphia is gaining in population, new restaurants are popping up everywhere, student growth is running at a healthy clip, and more people are choosing to stay in Philadelphia once they have kids.
But there are some impediments in the way of Philadelphia’s renewal. The largest one of all happens to be a massive property tax delinquency problem larger in Philadelphia than any other city.
Secondary to that is an industry of Property Squatting, which is a form of real estate speculation without any regard to care and maintenance of the real property, including paying any property taxes, which weakens the City’s ability to offer decent services to its people, and in the case of some properties, poses an extreme danger. The City of Philadelphia has slowly started to take action against this industry, with its web of hidden participants each playing the game of speculation, treating them like baseball cards while racking up monumental code violations and arrearages.
Of course, with any derelict property comes a connection to illegal activity. Crackhouses, abandoned warehouses and vacant lots where eyes on the street are scarce contributes to crime. Drug dealers, drug addicts and the guy that just tried to break into your house last week all have to have a place to rest their head when they go to bed. Usually that will be on a parcel that’s got issues that, if the City had acted upon them, could have extricated those individuals, and that crime, from your neighborhood.
And then, just like anyplace in the country, we have our favorite slumlords. Like for instance, Bob here. Because of Philadelphia’s broken municipal code enforcement system, hopefully to be fixed with the new Blight Court, slumlords the likes of Bob Coyle may never get to grow as large as he did (talking about his portfolio, not his girth).
Philadelphia’s approach to dealing with this issue has a direct impact on the future your neighborhood is headed; whether it’s up or down. Virulent community activism in recent years has surged in neighborhoods like Southwest Center City, Fishtown, the northern end of Point Breeze, Francisville and other communities close to Philadelphia’s downtown core.
These neighborhoods are blossoming and new community activists have formed from long-time residents and newcomers, these neighborhoods are more likely to demand more services, and more often. And in most cases, the City is responsive to those demands, which aids a positive feedback loop. In Philadelphia, bad neighborhoods can indeed turn into good ones.
No matter where you live in Philly though, each individual block of the city is its own unique little space, most of them with their own unique dynamics. Individual actions by property owners, for good and for worse, can have knock-on affects for several or everyone on that particular block.
For instance, in the Robert Coyle saga with over 300 residential properties clustered in Kensington and Port Richmond falling into the hands of a single nuisance owner, the fate of every individual property has impacts to the blocks each of those houses sit. Because most of the LandVest properties have deteriorated from an already stressed condition, several property owners adjacent to Coyle houses have been forced to leave. That abandonment multiplies in intensity when you think about all the taxes that were never collected and the increased crime whenever any of his houses become havens for drug dealers and drug addicts.
The cost in lost revenue, lost opportunity and lost investment is staggering. Not just for the renters that Bob Coyle fucked over, but for every single person on every single block where Coyle had bought a house. This story repeats itself for many of Philadelphia’s derelict property owners. Sure, not many were as bad as Bob Coyle was–he was one of the worst ever–but even a house with unpaid taxes on it for 9 years will affect everyone in aggregate.
The solution to this? Blocks needs to rise up and take a stand. Neighbors need to be more communicative, civic meetings need to be well-attended, preferably at least one resident for every block in the neighborhood.
So where do you come into the picture? Simple. Don’t ignore property issues that are near you that affect you. From overflowing garbage, to an unsecured vacant lot, to a burnt out shell, Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia already has a rich tapestry of laws that give your local government the power to do something about it.
Learn how to send in L&I and Streets complaints using the City’s 3-1-1 system. And reporting tips to the Philadelphia Police. Or calling the District Attorney for drug and whore houses (215-686-5858).
Document each and every time you make these contacts, and follow-up on them if the City has failed to respond to you. If you’re dogged and determined, you will get results.
My name is Christopher Sawyer. I’m an anti-blight activist in Kensington. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for a decade. I happen to be passionate about City issues, particularly within the realm of property, blight and beautification.
If you have a problem property you would like me to look in to, you can contact me directly at philadelinquency [at] gmail.com