Walking the walk

Big­wigs in gov­ern­ment walk the streets of Frank­ford to get a firsthand view of blight.

It’s an urb­an giv­en: Walk around any city neigh­bor­hood and you’ll spot something that needs fix­ing.

Last week, Jim Sanders and John Far­rell walked around Frank­ford do­ing just that, but they toured the neigh­bor­hood with rep­res­ent­at­ives of sev­er­al city agen­cies — the people who can ac­tu­ally do the fix­ing.

Streets, the Fire De­part­ment, Pris­ons, CLIP, Com­merce, the Man­aging Dir­ect­or’s Of­fice, Mur­al Arts, May­or’s Com­mis­sion on Aging, May­or’s Of­fice of Civic En­gage­ment & Vo­lun­teer Ser­vices, PA Ca­reer­Link and Li­censes and In­spec­tions were just some of the de­part­ments that sent people to join Far­rell, a deputy man­aging dir­ect­or, and Sanders, an as­sist­ant man­aging dir­ect­or, in identi­fy­ing some of the com­munity’s prob­lems — and op­por­tun­it­ies, Far­rell said.

Far­rell and Sanders run the Philly Rising pro­gram, a new city agency that aims to im­prove tar­geted neigh­bor­hoods. Last Thursday, Far­rell said the walk around Frank­ford was de­signed to put people from city de­part­ments right there on neigh­bor­hood streets along with com­munity res­id­ents so they can see for them­selves what needs to be ad­dressed. Some­times, he said, it takes mul­tiple city agen­cies to handle what might ap­pear to be one prob­lem.

Michelle Feld­man from the Frank­ford Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion, Kim­berly Wash­ing­ton from the Frank­ford Parks Group and North­east EPIC Stake­hold­ers, Tim Wis­niewski from the Frank­ford Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict and the Frank­ford Civic As­so­ci­ation, Jason Dawkins from the of­fice of Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.) and Jonath­an Car­son, su­per­visor of Frank­ford’s Safety Am­bas­sad­or, had ideas for the city of­fi­cials.

Dawkins, for ex­ample, poin­ted out a prop­erty on the 4700 block of Griscom St. that is owned by the CDC but is oc­cu­pied by a squat­ter, and Car­son brought a list of spots that need city at­ten­tion.

Dan Quinn from L&I; looked over a prop­erty on the 5000 block of the same street. There had been a fire there and the doors and win­dows had been sealed up by the city.

More needs to be done at that prop­erty, Quinn said. The city re­quires a prop­erty own­er to re­store win­dows and doors if the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood is at least 80 per­cent oc­cu­pied, and the 5000 block of Griscom meets that re­quire­ment, he said. The pen­alty for not com­ply­ing could be $300 per day per open­ing, said Brid­get Collins-Gre­en­wald, a deputy man­aging dir­ect­or.

Col­lect­ing those fines might be a chal­lenge. Ac­cord­ing to the city’s on­line re­cords, the own­er lives at the Griscom Street house. Clearly, nobody is home. But, also ac­cord­ing to on­line rev­en­ue re­cords, more than $15,000 in prop­erty taxes, in­terest and pen­al­ties are owed on the house, and the city already has put sev­er­al li­ens on the site.

Collins-Gre­en­wald said L&I; has re­tained a small staff of in­terns to find out where prop­erty own­ers really live. She said they use re­cords from the city Wa­ter De­part­ment and the IRS along with In­ter­net re­search to track down those own­ers.

The tac­tic has been suc­cess­ful, she said.

That done, she said, there are some new teeth to put the bite on those own­ers that the city is in the pro­cess of sharpen­ing right now.

Last fall, then-Gov. Ed Rendell signed in­to law a meas­ure that will al­low the city to go after the per­son­al as­sets of prop­erty own­ers that are in vi­ol­a­tion of city code rather than just the prop­er­ties in ques­tion.

“We’re in the pro­cess of ap­ply­ing it now,” Collins-Gre­en­wald said.

In a phone in­ter­view Monday, Collins-Gre­en­wald said the city has been look­ing at va­cant prop­er­ties, find­ing the own­ers and then no­ti­fy­ing them of the city’s laws re­gard­ing their up­keep as well as no­ti­fy­ing them of the pro­vi­sions of the state law that lets the city go after their per­son­al as­sets if they are fined for not com­ply­ing.

The pro­cess cur­rently stands at the point that the prop­er­ties have been in­spec­ted and that re­in­spec­tions will soon be­gin. Even­tu­ally, though, the own­ers could wind up in a spe­cial court if they don’t bring their prop­er­ties up to code. She said nobody has been taken to court — yet.

An­oth­er prop­erty that got a good look was an aban­doned house on the 4600 block of Hawthorne. The house, which is next to a va­cant lot, seems a good can­did­ate for de­moli­tion. It might seem lo­gic­al to do that be­fore the build­ing falls down on its own, but it isn’t cheap. Far­rell said knock­ing down a house could cost the city up to $15,000.

By set­ting up the tour of sev­er­al blocks of Frank­ford, Far­rell said, he was hop­ing to get “at as much low-hanging fruit as I can” — is­sues that can be eas­ily no­ticed and ad­dressed.

And some of those fixes cre­ate op­por­tun­it­ies, he said. A va­cant lot could be an urb­an garden, for ex­ample, he said.

Walk­ing around a neigh­bor­hood with rep­res­ent­at­ives of sev­er­al city agen­cies in tow cre­ates aware­ness of what needs to be done in the com­munity and also shows res­id­ents the city is form­ing that aware­ness.

Some people are a little wary of the at­ten­tion, Far­rell said.

“They’re more afraid of suits with clip­boards than they are of cops with guns,” he said. ••

Reach John Loftus at 215-354-3110 or by e-mail at jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus