Thomas Citro, a notorious slumlord, has the Council president’s ear
Fifteen years ago Temple U was still mostly a commuter college. After 7pm, menacing towering hot lamps lit up Broad Street like Stalag 13, brighter than the sun does during daytime in an effort to deter crime for any of the few students or faculty still hanging around after dark.
Today in the shadows of Temple University’s shiny new buildings sits a rapidly growing hodgepodge of hastily-constructed multifamily rental units that have been going up like hot cakes and a small but flowering college-town has formed around the university’s southern and western sides where pedestrian activity is thick with students traveling back and forth between newly-constructed housing and the main campus.
One of the closest plots of land to Temple’s southern edges is Carlisle and Jefferson Street. It’s the most premium spot to reach a large selection of fast food fare, the main campus, the Broad Street Line. A block away sits a Fresh Grocer. As they say in real estate, location location location.
And if that location happens to be city-owned land, which in most cases in North Philadelphia–especially around Temple it is going to be, that means you need to have a very intimate relationship with Darrell Clarke, the president of City Council and the overlord of dispensing municipally-owned property in District 5.
Thomas Citro is something of a notorious character for those who have had to deal with him in Northeast Philadelphia. He’s the president of Citro Communications, which would make you think he has something to do with telecom. Instead, he was for a time among the city’s largest property warehousers and slumlords, amassing a mountain of code violation complaints and delinquent taxes on his rental empire.
In the last 10 years, Citro has since shifted his focus from owning houses to running student housing.
Reporter Ryan Briggs from City and State has been taking a look at how Council President Darrell Clarke has been completely oblivious to tax delinquents getting City-owned property for next to nothing and in one case, an entire medical center was built without permits.
1405 & 1407 Jefferson St
Today we’ll take a look at how Citro manages to get these properties. One piece of land that Citro has not been able to build on yet is 1405-07 Jefferson. Right now it looks like this:
Last year, Citro was sending up feelers to Darrell Clarke’s office wanting to get this parcel. This prompted a Clarke staffer to send this letter up to the Philadelphia Land Bank to prepare the parcel for a sale. As far as Philadelinquency knows, Citro was the only interested buyer.
Just days after Clarke’s team sent the request to prepare the property for sale, Citro sends an email to Clarke’s office asking how soon he can close on the property. (Guess no one else wants to bid on it?)
$190,000 Appraisal? What?
Part of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s process for selling City-owned land includes taking an appraisal of the property so the City understands what the market value is for the property it’s holding. The PRA came back with a $190,000 estimate for both vacant lots on the corner. Citro balks and claims that he had once put in offers for the two lots at $32K and $34K a piece, far less than the $190K the PRA now estimates the properties to be worth.
The PRA generally seems confused by Citro and asks him for backing documentation to show that the City had agreed in the past to sell him the lots at those prices.
How many apartments are you building?
This seems like an easy question.
Yo man, do you have plans for this shit or nah?
In another email exchange in January of this year, Citro and the PRA bounce back and forth over plans for the multifamily units. Given that Citro already has a whole rats nest of buildings surrounding the site, he seems generally confused that the PRA is asking him to produce a package similar to a formal RFP–which is what the City asks for from most other developers who put bids on City-owned property.
Citro then follows up and sends over a basic site plan, showing the position of the streets, the curb and where the buildings will go.
What’s funny about this is later on in March, Citro asks for a settlement date. This is how that went:
Wait, how big are these apartments again?
In April and some more back and forth with Citro to get him to reveal more detail about the apartment building, things move along. But the executive director for the Redevelopment Authority spots something…
Ms. Nickolic from the Land Bank writes back saying Clarke is cool with it.
Hi. Mr. Citro has a nasty habit of not paying property taxes and he racks up code violations. Can your office explain why it’s giving him City-owned land?
This summer, Ryan Briggs from City and State had started probing the PRA asking for documentation and all communication between themselves and Thomas Citro. Citro had not yet completed the sale of the property but it had already been placed on a list to be voted on at City Council.
To refresh the PRA’s memory, Briggs sent over a long list of properties that have issues, including previous transactions the PRA made with Citro. Some of those violations and missing permits include the recent student housing that Citro has built.
By now the City was less than a month away from closing on the two Jefferson Street lots with Citro.
This one e-mail from a reporter then caused a lot of e-mail traffic between the Redevelopment Authority and Council President Clarke’s office.
Out comes a new email from Council President Clarke’s legislative assistant who helps draw up the bills for passage.
Hmm. I wonder what that could be. Apparently Clarke’s office is confused by the number of units Citro intends to build.
Jeff explains it better. He says Citro’s 16 units does not match up with what he took out zoning permits for.
Hey what’s the hold up? Why won’t you give me this land???!
Oh God, he’s calling again
Ok, Time to Tell Citro to Fuck Off
As of today, the PRA has not yet sold 1405 or 1407 Jefferson Street.