The PHA Embarrassment Thursday, March 24, 2011
The Philadelphia Housing Authority, the fourth largest public housing agency in the US, was sued for its two-story disabled-senior homes at 1003-1011 S. 20th Street. While the zoning board approved the construction in mid-2010, SOSNA (represented by Paul Toner) and David Orphanides (on behalf of a number of neighboring property owners) appealed the case on the basis of the building's blatant aesthetic dissemblance to the area and the effect that would have on the growing neighborhood. The PHA lost this case today; the homes built with public money may now be torn down with public money after an appeal fought with public money.
This is one of the few times in Philadelphia history that a public agency, rather than a private investor, may have to raze a property. SOSNA and the Graduate Hospital community (with surprising support by Anna Verna) were standing up for their reasonable concerns about the development project, and had PHA listened in the first place, this would be a different story. The PHA has submitted zoning permit applications for similar development projects throughout the city, all of which required variances from the board and all of which were granted, partially due to the lack of any opposition in those instances. This was a case where a simple redesign, based off these community concerns, could have saved the PHA untold amounts of tax payers' money, nevermind its own embarrassment as this news breaks.
Unfortunately the PHA was less than clear to the ZBA and neighbors about the project, which may have contributed to the board's decision to grant the appeal. After filing the appeal, both SOSNA and a group of Interveners asked the courts to stop PHA from building until a decision was reached. The court struck down this request and construction continued. Given this recent decision, as Orphanides explains, "we are left with an unfortunate situation where the PHA has built a structure that no longer is permitted and that may require, in the end, additional tax payer dollars to alter or remove." It is unfortunate to see this type of financial waste in Philadelphia, but rightfully satisfying to see the community win a fair battle with the city."