Did you know that a few different agencies associated with the government of the City of Philadelphia own several thousand vacant properties, scattered across the city? The City is set up to own specific types of properties, including government buildings, parks, recreation centers, police stations, and the airport. Things are far less streamlined when it comes to the staggering number of vacant lots the City owns. Remember, when you own property you are responsible for its upkeep, including cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, cleaning up leaves, and so on. The City spends millions of dollars annually maintaining its inventory of vacant properties, and due to the sheer volume and their geographic spread, it doesn’t do an especially great job. We’d argue that this money is simply wasted every year.
For years, we’ve wondered why the City hasn’t acted to aggressively sell of its large and scattered real estate portfolio. For a host of reasons mostly related to councilmanic prerogative, the sales velocity was but a trickle for the longest time. Over the last few years though, it certainly feels like there’s been an uptick in the sales numbers for City owned lots. Not only do these sales represent money in the bank for the City, but they also eliminate maintenance and insurance costs. One example is 1248-52 S. 23rd St., a triple-wide parcel that was owned by the City for over a decade. During the time that the City owned the property, two homes got demoed, leaving two vacant lots and a blighted two story home at this address.
The Redevelopment Authority offered this property for sale via competitive bidding process a couple years back, and last year Lily Development completed the purchase, marking their first project in Point Breeze. As you might expect, they demoed the vacant building and are now building three new construction homes on this triple-wide lot. The homes will cover 2,200 sqft of living space and include 3-4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. We don’t have pricing information yet but given the quality work we’ve seen from this developer in other parts of town, we imagine they’ll be priced at a premium compared to some other projects we’ve seen in this part of town.
This is a great outcome for a property that’s been bringing down its entire block for years. When the Land Bank was established a few years ago to try to streamline the disposition process, we were hopeful that we’d seen the City sell off most of its vacant land quickly and efficiently, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Perhaps the bill passed last year to create additional transparency in City land sales will help, but as long as councilmanic prerogative remains the unwritten law of the land, the City will maintain a large inventory of vacant land and continue wasting money maintaining it.