In Point Breeze, PRA Attempting Land Grab With No Plan in Place

The hits just keep on coming from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

Today, we’d like to share a plan from the PRA to condemn and seize forty-three properties via eminent domain in the Point Breeze neighborhood. This list was finalized at the PRA’s July meeting, and has an acquisition budget of nearly $1.7M. Twelve of the parcels are already owned by City agencies, and the other thirty-one are owned privately, by individuals and developers. Several of these were purchased as recently as a few months ago.

Remarkably, after the acquisition of these properties, the PRA has no concrete plans for next steps. According to a quote from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s Chief of Staff Chris Sample to Next American City, the plan is to use about 40% of the properties for new construction affordable housing and 60% for market-rate housing. But there’s nothing whatsoever that holds the PRA to that breakdown. And does it really make sense for the PRA to seize privately owned lots only to resell them back to private developers? Our belief is that all of these lots are tabbed for affordable housing development… and that is a huge problem.

Recently built affordable housing in Point Breeze

There have been numerous affordable housing units built in the neighborhood in the last year. Most of the funding for this came from a Federal grant that, so far as we can tell, is nearly used up. If this is indeed the case, then thirty-one privately owned lots are being taken by the PRA without a specific plan, without clear funding in place, and with no obligation to resell any of these lots any time soon. It seems quite likely that this effort will only add to the City’s bloated inventory of vacant properties in the neighborhood, further hamper redevelopment in Point Breeze, and perpetuate embarrassing City-owned blight.

Example of the City's fine stewardship

We did a little back of the envelope research and came up with 436 vacant lots owned by City agencies between Washington Avenue and Tasker Street in the neighborhood. Many of these lots have been owned by these agencies for decades and have sat vacant all the while. The map below gives an indication of the enormity of the City’s vacant land holdings in the neighborhood and also shows most of the properties the PRA intends to forcibly acquire.

There are no words. Click on the map to zoom in.

Last week, 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced Bill 120755, to make this plan a reality. Before it becomes the law of the land, it will have to pass out of the Rules Committee and then through full City Council. And today we ask Councilman Johnson the following questions:

Why in the world does it seem like a good idea for the City to acquire more land in a neighborhood where it already owns hundreds of vacant lots that it’s unable to maintain?

How does it make sense to spend taxpayer dollars to buy more land when there’s either no will or no funding to build on land the City already owns?

Who will have the chance to buy these lots? The developers who are being forced to sell them to the City? Or plugged-in affordable housing developers?

Is the owner of 1717 Manton St., who hasn’t paid property taxes on their property since the 1980s, entitled to a market-rate price for their vacant land? Shouldn’t this property have sold at sheriff’s sale earlier this year instead of being pulled off the sheriff sale list an hour before the auction?

Are property owners getting full-market value for their properties if they originally purchased them as side-yards from the PRA for one dollar?

Where is the transparency?

What is the plan? Be specific.

In the Next American City story, Councilman Johnson is quoted as saying “To ensure a mixed income and culturally diverse community, we want to ensure that there is balanced development by protecting longstanding residents and promoting a mix of market rate and affordable housing.” How is that justification for buying 31 privately owned lots by force? Respectfully, Councilman Johnson, how about promoting a mix of market rate and affordable housing on the currently City-owned 1300 block of Capitol Street? Or the 1300 block of S. 21st Street? Or the 1300 block of S. Bouvier?

Four City-owned lots on the 1300 block of S. 21st St.
A dozen City-owned lots on the 1300 block of Capitol St. and the 2000 block of Reed St.
Several City lots on the 1300 block of S. Bouvier Street. Mostly owned since the 1980s and really well maintained!

Regarding developer interest in the vacant lots the City wishes to take, Chris Sample says “[They] gotta give us some timeframe. [They] can’t leave them, you know, vacant for long periods of time, because we’re just not interested in that…”

Sounds like pretty good advice for the people who sign Mr. Sample’s paychecks, you know?

To sign a petition to show your opposition to this proposal, click here.

To see the full content of Kenyatta Johnson’s Bill 120755, click here.

Full disclosure: OCF Realty, parent company of Naked Philly, does a lot of business in Point Breeze.