Sale of Tax Delinquent Properties made Philly $500K This Morning

Today I participated in the City of Philadelphia's Sheriff Sale of Tax Delinquent properties. Have you been? This is my fourth sale, and today I started keeping notes.

Number of properties for sale: almost 100
Total sold: 49
Total sale revenue: $558,000

Property spotlight: 1124 S. 48th Street
Number of years tax delinquent: 23*
Total tax principal owed: $47,653
Total Tax Balance: $98,646
Today's sale price: $11,600
Year City tore structure down**: 2007

Someone please explain to me again why our leaders can not see the damage done to our city's housing stock, to our city's infrastructure, and to its residents' quality of life by letting tax delinquency and L&I violations persist for so long? Why is it not better public policy to legally severe this owner from this property at a much earlier stage than what we see with this example? If, for example, the city had moved this to sale in year 5 of the owner's deliquency, it and us residents would have enjoyed almost 20 years of property tax revenue from the house, as well as sales tax, wage tax, and potential business privilege tax revenue from the family or persons that might have lived in it. And, the neighbors on the street would have enjoyed higher assessed values for their homes during transfers, valuations for equity lines for buying that second car, redoing the kitchen, sending junior to college, etc. They also would have enjoyed a better quality of life by not having to live next to a dangerous building. And a twin structure would still have its companion house on the other side of the party wall.

Isn't a city government's authority founded on the legal theory that we allow them to tax us and impose laws on us in order to protect our "health, safety, and welfare"?---so how does delaying, for 20 years, moving this property back into caring and responsible ownership comply with or support the concept of "a governing authority?"

*(at least, since the online BRT record stops at 1986)
** Apparently, the owner was contacted several times in very recent years and asked to "make her structure correct" but refused. Instead, she did market it for sale in the years up to 2007. Even though it was structurally unsafe and in complete disrepair, and the total tax bill by this time had reached over $90,000, she was still adamant in asking an outrageous price for it and in refusing to make the building safe.

Not a Shock

This has been an issue for a long time, with the ostrich of city government ignoring the truth. When Ed Goppelt and I helped Channel 6 do a story on tax delinquency about four years ago, we nailed a whole bunch of slumlords, including relatives of city officials. There was a brief ruckus over the Sybaritic lifestyle of the tax scofflaws, but apathy reigned.

Not much happened, but the story, I think, is that genuinely small businesspeople or owner-occupiers are relentlessly hounded if they are only briefly late, but the 'big dogs' skate for years. Why? Because Revenue knows the small fry will pay, to keep their equity,yet the the 400-parcel owning cheats have nothing to fear. Are they too big? This good news from RealIsRight shines necessary light on a massive system of cheating that has lasted unchecked for decades, while average citizens quake in fear of their government.

Joshua Vincent
www.urbantools.org
www.ourcommonwealth.org
Phree Philly

Responsible and Routine Reporting Required

Why do we stand for it? Why aren't investigative reporters routinely publishing the names and details of these "cheats" that own large numbers of parcels? Why aren't our city law enforcement agencies on these guys? Its not that difficult to find the facts. And, it shouldn't be that difficult to see the human interest side of the story, as these cheats are injuring our city and us in extensive and egregious ways, as I indicated in the original post.

For example:

Three years ago, I downloaded a three-block sample from the BRT website of properties, specifically looking for properties owned by Jannie Blackwell's back-pocket developer (she's "gifted" them over 800 properties from her district, including a large and lucrative parcel on 42nd and Market recently for development of some unpublished sort): Prime Property Management. Their acquisition arm is Neighborhood Restorations (or some variation thereof), their rehab arm is Melrose, Inc., and their management/leasing arm is PPM.

In that small sample, I found almost 20 properties owned by them, of which 12 had serious violations. "Serious" in that it affects our health, safety, and welfare by having immediate and long-term impacts on the city's collection taxes which fund our infrastructure and public services, on our quality of life, and on our maintenance of adequate housing stock for our middle and lower-income classes. Serious, also, in that, if the "little guy" without the incidious relationship with a politician or city administrator committed it, he/she would be fined or even removed as owner of the property:

---8 were tax delinquent, many of those for several years, including years in which Jannie Blackwell continued to "gift" them property.

---two were used for rentals in a zone that allowed only single family homes, and their L & I files were COMPLETELY EMPTY, as were their digital records. Translation: not only were no construction permits requested and issued, no use variations were requested or issued. The West L & I office has never responded to my requests for an explanation and a documented "correction" of that situation.

---3 structural/health issues, in that the roof leaked profusely into the tenants' bedrooms and/or into the neighbors' homes, cracked and open sewage pipe in basement, etc.

---one had been taxed as a vacant lot for the last few years. Though it was acquired as a vacant lot years prior, they had quickly built a single family home on the site and had it on the market for $300K. When I took the listing to the tax assessor's office and asked him how this stuff happens, he answered "When we don't get notice of a construction permit from L & I." Translation: Again, they didn't file a construction permit.

---Three under construction had used such deficient materials or construction techniques, including hiding structural deficiencies with vinyl siding or stucco instead of removing and replacing rotten or eroded framing. Within two years, the two tenants who spoke with me or let me in one of these houses, affirmed that the materials were failing already, or that leaks persisted. Floors were cracking from exterior wall to exterior wall, doors had fallen off hinges, walls were water damaged and moldy. Yet these houses had just been "rehabbed" within the last two years--and rehabbed with sizable "low-interest" "affordable housing" loans which often amounted to the allocation, per unit, of 200percent+ MORE dollars than is obvious that these guys actually used to "restore" the unit.

On top of that, their units are counted in the numbers as developed units of "Section 8" or "low-income" housing for the city, when in reality, these units do not meet our city's demand for low-income housing--or at least won't be able to do it for very long, at the rate they decay after their rehab. Its as if PPM knows that their low-income tenants won't say anything or won't collectively make the deficiencies public and demand better quality construction and maintenance, and that even if the tenants did start to stir up the pot, the councilwoman would "shut the down squeaky wheel" for PPM.

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