It was an obituary that ultimately provided the information that led to the transformation of a blighted home near 49th & Baltimore instead of its demolition on the taxpayer's dollar. Detective work from Project Rehab reached all the way to Brooklyn, and in the end a home that had collapsed in on itself everywhere except for the facade was renovated and sold for $335K in a span of 18 months.

In the past

“There are always different stories and always different complications,” said Ryan Spak, who operates Project Rehab at University City District.

Since its conception in 2011, Project Rehab has positively impacted thirty-one homes in University City and West Philadelphia and has created $11.3M in real estate value from distressed properties, according to Spak. In February, we shared the story of another collapsed home at 4923 Osage Ave. that had been rehabbed and put on the market for $350K.

At 716 S. 49th St., the property sat vacant since its owner lost her life in a fire in 2005. One of the woman's two daughters cared for the home until her death in 2009. Then it continued its state of decline. When Spak tried to find the owner's heir when Project Rehab hoped to transform the home, the paper trail went blank. The original owner had never created an estate and therefore the property was in legal limbo.

When Project Rehab first launched, it worked with a few local organizations that provided them a list of ruined or abandoned homes that just needed to be figured out. 716 S. 49th St. was on the list from Cedar Park Neighbors. So when it came time to work on the property, Project Rehab focused on numerous homes at once, and are working on as many as eight right now. Spak didn't know where to look for a legal owner. He searched, and he searched some more. “When I hit a dead-end finding a neighbor, the next place I turn to is the community,” Spak said.

But the community didn't know either. Neighbors had different ideas about who her children were or where they were. One said she was a teacher, another said she was a nun, another said the daughter lived in Virginia. So Spak and UCD did some digging. Eventually, he found an old newspaper that announced a death that appeared to include the name of a member of the former owner's family. Spak was unsure how that name was related to the original owner. After more digging, using a newspaper archive at the library, Spak discovered the owner's still-living daughter had changed her last name to Tucker and lived in Brooklyn. He eventually was able to contact her. After a few months of convincing her he was legit and not a scammer and that Project Rehab wanted to help her, and thus the neighborhood, Ms. Tucker worked with Spak. They did their research and learned how to establish an estate with a will. Because she was the only living relative, the property would go to her. The point was how to do it legally. Ms. Tucker wanted to sell the home, Spak said. So Project Rehab put her in touch with a number of local realtors and the deal was done.

Current view

Now occupied by new owners, the property sits at a fantastic location in Cedar Park. You can throw a newspaper to the 34 Trolley stop, and the Mariposa Co-op is right around the corner, to name a couple of features of the location. Indeed, there are many more. All this thanks to Project Rehab. It's interesting to look at how a property can fall through the cracks, and then get pulled out with a ton of legwork from a few committed individuals.