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 firstname.lastname@example.org