This map is probably going to be a libertarian’s wet-dream to see.   I had to generate it just to satisfy my own curiosity (click for fullscreen).

Agency Owned Property

I took the roads, the water, just about everything off to see the shape of the city.

The map isn’t perfect, since the way worker drones at City Hall record property deeds isn’t perfect.  Who knew there was 30 different ways to spell “Department of Veterans Affairs”?  Another one that was a pain in the was the Logan Assistance Corporation, which was a scandal-plagued quasi city/state non-profit hastily set up to deal with the Logan Triangle mess.

Side Note:  If you want some fun, here’s an article when Mayor Wilson Goode presided over the launch of the non-profit, and then there’s this one where the Feds came into the picture and local pols scattered like roaches as the agency wound down.

Anyway, to get all the City’s versions of Logan Development Corp/Assn/Assoc and all the various misspellings I eventually had to just wind up searching “::starts with:: LOGAN ASS” to find them all.

Some of the stuff I classify as Federal and State owned may confuse you.   For instance Temple gets hefty state funding and is a quasi state school, while Penn is not.   Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may trade on the stock market, but they are GSEs and are de facto nationalized companies.  Other things that are obviously city-owned but would clutter the map to see big blobs I didn’t try to put on because they don’t have a deed, like Fairmount Park and Pennypack, while some other parks are colorized, like Washington Square and Independence Mall.

Either way, the point of the map is to visualize just how much the public’s trust is laid down in actual land among the vast alphabet soup of government agencies that physically hold the deeds.  This map is the whole kitchen sink, from your local schools to the vacant lots.

As you can see from the map, I think we have more government ownership of land that could rival D.C.

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One little secret you can use to figure out whether or not a suspected vacant property has activity or not is to look up the water bill on the property.  But how in the hell do you do that?

Get The Water Account Number

This is easy.  Just go to the Stormwater Map.  You can search on address, cross street or the OPA/BRT number of the property.   There’s a blue box on the left and where it says Account # is the 16-digit water account number used by the Water Revenue Bureau.

The stormwater map reveals who's the owner and who is listed on the water bill as well as the account number
The stormwater map reveals who’s the owner and who is listed on the water bill as well as the account number

Pretend Like You’re Going to Pay The Water Bill

The next step is easy.   Go to this page like you’re going to pay the water bill.  Select Residential if this is a residential property or a vacant lot that used to be residential, and select Commercial for commercial or large property and vacant lots that used to be commercial/industrial.

Use the 16-digit account number you got in the previous step.


Reading The Water Bill

Water Bill

Voilà!   Now you can see if there was any water usage on the last water bill and if there’s any accumulated charges.

Note that the payment website will not tell you who is actually paying the water bills.  Only the City’s Revenue Department has access to that information and the best way to go about getting access to it is to send a direct request to your district City Council member.   Of course, be sure to explain why you’re looking for it and what’s going on with the property.

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City Council passed two major bills we collectively are now calling the Gentrification Protection Plan but not that much has been written about the content inside either of each bill, how much relief these protection plans offer, and who they help out the most.

The plan consists of two City Council bills, 120340-AAAA06 (this thing got amended a lot), and 130417-A02. To make it simple to understand, the first bill is the big $30MM gentrification protection plan bill which was actually started last year and finalized in time for the Actual Value Initiative. Then there is a smaller, $3MM tax deferral bill that is squarely focused on those homeowners who can’t suffer even a small increase in their tax bills. Today let’s bite off the big one: gentrification protection.

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As a service to you in helping you be a Professional Complainer, on PDQ I’ll be running a series showing you how to do some basics on investigating property, sending up smarter complaints to the City with information and detail that makes it more difficult for City employees to mark your complaints as unfounded, etc.

First off:  How to find addresses of property in Philadelphia…

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How to Investigate Rental Property

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The long-awaited app to scour through L&I’s Hansen Database is finally out!

It’s called License to Inspect and fairly pretty cool.    Some features that aren’t available on L&I’s existing maps website are direct links to historical photos available for a property from Old Images of Philadelphia.

However, I haven’t yet seen where I can easily locate L&I violations data or the various types of appeal data just yet.   Also not visible on the maps are demolition permits, which the L&I maps website does have.

License to Inspect

However, it’s a start, and I certainly hope PlanPhilly gets the remaining features of License to Inspect completed.   It would certainly be nice to draw “notification zones” around neighborhoods to get alerts of new activity.