The Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia’s public housing agency, owns and operates over 14K affordable housing units in the city, most of which are located in large affordable housing developments. About 6,100 properties owned by PHA are not in these developments, but are scattered among different neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. Of those 6,100 properties, only about two-thirds are occupied or fit for habitation, with the remainder being houses in need of significant repair, or vacant lots. So if our math is correct, PHA is currently sitting on about 2,100 blighted properties or vacant lots, and doesn’t appear to have the money or the resources to improve them at this time.
Now for some good news: For the first time in its history, PHA will be auctioning off a portion of its inventory to the public! On November 16th at 1PM, Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Company will auction off 400 PHA properties. Some of the properties will be sold individually, and others will be sold in bundles, for medium and large sized developers. Unfortunately, these properties will be largely out of reach for regular folks, who would struggle mightily to get a mortgage for a blighted property or a vacant lot.
At the press conference today, Michael Kelly of PHA, Councilman Darrell Clarke, State Rep Michelle Brown and auctioneer Max Spann spoke of neighborhood transformation and a new direction for the PHA scattered site program. They spoke at a lectern on the 3000 block of Cambridge St., just below Brewerytown, a block where five PHA owned properties will be auctioned off next month. This block, located in a desirable area and seemingly full of neighbors who care about their street, has been held back by boarded-up homes owned by PHA. With the auction on the way, the future here is bright, but we’re left wondering what took so long. Oh yeah, this guy probably didn’t help.
We applaud PHA for going in a new direction and divesting itself of properties that it can’t afford to maintain or redevelop. We understand that there are serious legal and bureaucratic hoops that PHA had to jump through to get to this point, particularly with HUD, and we’re thrilled that the leadership at PHA has had the patience and the energy to make it happen.
We do, however, have two concerns.
1) Exactly how was the auction list determined? Take a look at a map of most of the properties being sold:
The concentration of homes in one area jumps out at you. And the lack of homes for sale in other neighborhoods is quickly apparent as well. Only one property is for sale in Point Breeze. One in Pennsport. One in Fishtown. A handful in Kensington. A handful in Brewerytown. A few in Fairmount. And none in Graduate Hospital. Almost all of the properties being sold are in North Philadelphia, in neighborhoods where developers will only pay bottom dollar. Why not sell off the dozens in Point Breeze? In Kensington? Surely there must be more in Brewerytown? At the press conference, we were told that the proceeds from the auction would be directed back into the scattered site program- but what if most of the properties sold don’t generate any proceeds? What is no one wants to purchase those houses at any price?
Which brings us to our other concern.
2) What’s going to happen to the other 1,700 properties? Mr. Kelly indicated that PHA is ready to sell an additional 700 of these properties, and then redevelop the remaining 1,000. He also expressed that PHA’s plan will be reevaluated after the November auction to see about next steps. But what if PHA can’t profit from the sale of numerous properties, and the November auction is a bust? Will 700 more properties still sell or will the whole concept be reconsidered?
Also, Mr. Kelly communicated that neighborhood groups and CDC’s would have an opportunity to purchase PHA lots or buildings outside of the auction process. Now, based on what we know about certain neighborhood groups, shouldn’t we be a little concerned about this? Or is this an overreaction?
One thing is for sure, it will be very interesting indeed to see how this all unfolds. We’ll be watching.
For a list of properties being auctioned off, click here.