nit-street-1024

Would you believe it?  A major policy of former mayor John Street is being picked up and will be put into action in Baltimore, the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.  The Baltimore Sun says it all

Calling Baltimore’s abandoned rowhouses “hotbeds for crime,” Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced a nearly $700 million plan to tear down thousands of vacant buildings and replace them with new developments — a level of investment in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods some say is unprecedented.

NTI was a $300MM program put in place under the former mayor to demolish the hood.  Scores of homes were leveled in areas across the city with an eye towards blight reduction and crime rates; most NTI demolitions occurred in the western neighborhoods of North Philadelphia.  Towards the end of the program some of the money was drained to assist subsidized housing developments.

The key difference between Baltimore and Philly?  Who is paying for it and the size and the scope of the program.  Philadelphia paid for NTI by writing out massive amounts of bond debt.  With no dedicated revenue to back up the bond payments this severely limited the scale of the program because of the debt load that the city could handle.

In Baltimore we’re talking $700MM committment and it’s going to come from the state with Bmore mayor Rawlings-Blake pledging to toss in another $94MM.  Baltimore is quite a bit smaller than Philly and this has the potential to mow down not just a couple of blighted neighborhoods, but perhaps a half-dozen of them or more.

One of the neighborhoods targeted is Sandtown, where Freddie Grey lived.

Both initiatives have the same starting theory: mowing down crack and heroin dens should obviously reduce crime.  It offers fewer opportunity for wayward young kids to get into trouble.   At least, that’s how programs like this are sold to the public by officials to make the prospect of years of demolition palletable.

There’s certainly a downside, besides the debt.   Building trades contractors seriously overbilled the city for work performed.  The Redevelopment Authority which oversaw the demolitions had none other than John Dougherty running the agency–talk about a fox running the chicken coup.  When Ed Rendell was mayor he was able to knock down 10,000 homes with just $88MM; 6 years later with a much bigger budget it achieved an efficiency below 60% thanks to the overspending.

Four years into the program NTI transformed itself.  City Council, agencies and activists started to see NTI more as a honeypot to pay for all sorts of pet projects rather than follow Street’s original vision.  Street also didn’t propose a rigid structure for what purposes the money was to be used for.  This left the decisions to the whims of City Council.  Towards the end of the funding term last year almost $30MM remained unspent.

All-in-all, NTI is seen as a failure.   Demolitions were well underway when Philadelphia saw its homicide rate spike in the summer of 2006.  NTI also avoided confronting property speculators–those people who actively own blighted property and are far more interested in holding the deed.  Condemnation orders were slow to come or would not be issued at all. This resulted in some vacant and abandoned homes disappearing on city blocks but not other ones.  The program also didn’t focus on VLCIPs (Vacant and Large Commercial/Industrial Property).   Philadelphia is still littered with half-collapsed factory building blight which has never been touched.

Ultimately the largest failure of NTI was in its own namesake.  It wasn’t really a transformative program.   The policy which has boosted rehabs and new residential construction in blighted areas of Philly still remains the 10-year tax abatement program, a product of the Rendell Administration.  That policy too is controversial; some people would rather be happier with class and racial self-segregation  in its neighborhoods than see the gentrification that creates plural demographics and will only tolerate a demolition program so long as it keeps the deeds to condemned property out of the real estate market.

I can’t really say I want to congratulate Baltimore on this one.   We went down this road and it didn’t go well.  Maybe Maryland’s Republican governor who is paying for this and its Democratic mayor who is happy to accept the cash can figure out a better way to do it than we did.

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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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There’s approximately 580,000 parcels of property in Philadelphia.  There are only 60 inspectors at the Department of Licenses and Inspections to oversee it all.

After some brutal blows with the Bucks Hosiery fire in Kensington and the Basciano building collapse on Market Street, Patrick Kerkstra in PlanPhilly writes that L&I has all but given up its Anti-Blight unit.  (Yes, L&I says it’s ‘temporary’ but it’s likely to be a permanent sorta temporary, kna’mean?)

This is rather troublesome if not downright scary.  It appears that L&I is about to slide back into the olden days, where L&I inspectors ran around town in a Chinese fire drill–which they still do now, their work schedule set by whoever can scream the loudest or get their ward leader to tug at the ears of City Council people that you or I would expect would come naturally by filling out a request with 311.

There is an opportunity to stop this before it starts.  City Council starts its budget season in March which is only two weeks from now.  Please consider writing to your member of City Council today and ask them to write legislation enforcing a mandatory minimum of 100 inspectors at L&I.   E-mail addresses of your District council people and a sample email you can use are at the bottom of this post.

Philadelinquency’s Personal Message to City Council:  “C’mon; stop fucking around with e-cigarettes and do some real shit for a change that actually affects our lives.”

— The Management

Here’s your District Council email addresses:

District 1  – Mark Squilla

District 2 – Kenyatta Johnson

District 3 – Jannie Blackwell

District 4 – Curtis Jones Jr.

District 5 – Darrell Clarke

District 6 – Bobby Henon

District 7 – Maria Quinones-Sanchez

District 8 – Cindy Bass

District 9 – Marian Tasco

District 10 – Brian O’Neill

Dear Council Member:

The recent building collapse in the heart of Center City that killed and maimed at least a dozen people and the destruction by fire of a major factory in Kensington that killed two city firefighters and the endless expanse of blight in Philadelphia is only checked by a single department of the city:  L&I.

L&I is run on a budget of vapor since the Nutter Administration.  The Anti-Blight unit at L&I which used to have two full-time inspectors now only has one, with virtually no support staff.  There are only 60 L&I inspectors guarding our City’s building, zoning, electrical and plumbing codes going after issues that are directly qualified as blight or blight-causing.  That is one inspector for every 9,666 properties in Philadelphia.  40 other inspectors handle C&I Fire code and construction activity in the city.

You cannot say you’re fighting blight and at the same time continue to defund this department.  Any reasonable person would conclude that the number of personnel required for this task would be far greater than 60 inspectors, and greater than 100.   Do us a favor this spring:  legislate and fund a minimum set of inspectors to be no less than 100 people and do not ever change this number below that.

100 inspectors reduces this burden down to 5,800 properties per inspector citywide; a still unmanageable number, but does give L&I some breathing space to deploy inspectors to regions of the city that are more intensive with active property owners skirting the Code.

Without a minimum 100 inspectors, how can you tell constituents that you are generally concerned about blight and bad building practices, when you are unwilling to fund the department that is responsible for carrying out enforcement of the Code?

Let’s see this circle of despair end once and for all.  Install the and make permanent the required inspectors we need to make Philadelphia a more vibrant and safer city.  We owe the victims’ families who have paid the ultimate price for this false thrift.  It should stop now.

 

The current “Kiss the Ring” property disposition system the City uses doesn’t go away with the new Land Bank.

 

Well today is the day; Philadelphia will now have a land bank.  City Council adopted City Council President Darrell Clarke‘s amendments which destroy almost everything considered to be progressive about Philadelphia’s new land bank.  With that, Clarke stepped out of the way and ensured its passage.

Is it the fix that we’ve all been hoping for to speed up the sale of City property and get it back in the hands of owners who can do something productive with it?  Hardly.

None of this goes away or gets reformed to speed it up and increase fairness, and it doesn’t change at all with the Land Bank:

  • You must be either a friend of the Council member or curry favor with the Council member where the property is located.  The prize you must get is a letter of support, because nobody in the Nutter Administration will lift a finger without first knowing that Council approves.
  • The Vacant Property Review Committee, or VPRC, must then put your property you want to buy on its agenda and then chit-chat about it in closed doors in a secret meeting where the public input is precisely zero and the minutes of the meeting suck (and aren’t easily findable on the City website without the aid of deep-Googling).
  • If it makes it this far, then Council staffers must draft a real estate transaction bill to authorize the City department to sell the particular parcel to you.

The Vacant Property Review Committee exists for a single reason:  It allows a member of City Council to kill a real estate proposal with a “pocket veto” without getting his or her’s hands dirty with the blame for killing a deal.   The VPRC doesn’t move any properties unless they already know ahead of time that the district Council member wants it to move.

Tiffany Green from Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze doesn’t like it either.  She mentioned in testimony today to City Council that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission is ‘all-white and one token African-American’, arguing that the Land Bank Board should be entirely elected and not appointed by City Council.

Registered Community Organization direct input is not there.  City Council is going to make the decisions and RCOs input is just “advisory”; and the channel for sending that input is harassing your member of City Council and the ward leaders in your area… which is Old School Philadelphia through-and-through.

The only benefit the City gets out of the Land Bank as it’s been amended by City Council President Darrell Clarke is this:  one agency will be the custodian of some City property; but it can’t do anything until you schmooze over City Council, first.

If you want to buy City-owned real estate for ANY purpose at all, you get nothing.

Communities?  You also get nothing.

This isn’t the Land Bank we originally thought would be the model already being put to use in other cities.   It was originally structured this way, until Darrell Clarke fucked it up.

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