Civic group meets to dicsuss issues of blight and crime

The Port Rich­mond West Com­munity Ac­tion Net­work in­vited spe­cial guests to its meet­ing last week, with the aim of solv­ing prob­lems that im­pact the com­munity.

On Jan. 18 in­side Kens­ing­ton’s Trin­ity Pres­by­teri­an Church, a small group gathered in an at­tempt to solve a very large prob­lem.

Led by or­gan­izer and fa­cil­it­at­or D. Mi­chael Black­ie, the Port Rich­mond West Com­munity Ac­tion Net­work (CAN) met to fix one spe­cif­ic is­sue and, as res­id­ents with con­cerns, to dis­cuss is­sues of blight and crime in the neigh­bor­hood.

The group in­vited city of­fi­cials to the church to ex­plore how res­id­ents and gov­ern­ment work­ers can work to­geth­er to clean up de­cay­ing prop­er­ties and tackle drug-re­lated crime.

In at­tend­ance were As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Beth Gross­man, chief of the Nuis­ance Prop­erty Task Force; Fran Burns, com­mis­sion­er of the city De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions; newly in­aug­ur­ated City Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D- 1st dist.); and Sgt. Jim Mor­ace, of the 24th Po­lice Dis­trict.

They ad­dressed top­ics ran­ging from how to main­tain private prop­erty to how to re­port neigh­bor­hood crimes. Drug-deal­ing, rob­ber­ies and pros­ti­tu­tion were cited dur­ing the meet­ing as par­tic­u­lar con­cerns.

In the res­id­ents’ sec­tion of the city, dilap­id­ated and aban­doned houses are a con­sid­er­able prob­lem; their con­cern is that run­down, va­cant prop­er­ties can give way to high­er pock­ets of crime, es­pe­cially drug-deal­ing on neg­lected street corners.

“Folks have been angry and up­set, and they have every right to be,” said Black­ie, a former news­pa­per ed­it­or who is Port Rich­mond West CAN’s chief or­gan­izer. “After we got to­geth­er and or­gan­ized, what came out of that were prob­lems upon prob­lems, such as va­cant houses, drug corners and drug houses. Our ob­ject­ive is to edu­cate people about keep­ing their prop­erty clean, which can be any­thing from put­ting your trash out the right day to sweep­ing up the side­walk.”

Black­ie made it clear to city of­fi­cials at the meet­ing that he and oth­er res­id­ents are eager to help in any way they can.

“A lot of the crime we com­plain about we can do something about. We don’t de­serve to be held cap­tive in our own neigh­bor­hood, be­cause if our neigh­bor­hood is do­ing well, then so are its people,” he said.

In turn, the of­fi­cials at the ses­sion told the people much the same thing.

ldquo;I look at this neigh­bor­hood and I see a lot of prob­lems, but prob­lems that can be fixed,” said Squilla. “There is empty land and places that can be re­habbed, which would be in­cent­ive for people to want to move to this neigh­bor­hood. We want to work to­ward solu­tions to crime and any oth­er com­plaints you have. We can’t prom­ise to do everything you want, but we’re here to listen.”

The agen­cies led by Burns and Gross­man fig­ure prom­in­ently in any strides achieved by the neigh­bor­hood. As L&I com­mis­sion­er, Burns over­sees a de­part­ment that is­sues per­mits for con­struc­tion al­ter­a­tions and no­tices of code vi­ol­a­tions to prop­erty own­ers.

If an own­er does not re­spond to a vi­ol­a­tion after three at­tempts at con­tact over 90 days, the per­son can be taken to court and po­ten­tially lose the prop­erty if vi­ol­a­tions aren’t remedied.

Of the ap­prox­im­ately 25,000 va­cant prop­er­ties in the city, Burns’ of­fice has cleaned and sealed about 1,500 of them (with about 600 sub­sequent de­moli­tions). There is still plenty of work to be done.

“It’s a con­stant struggle,” Burns said.

As for Gross­man, the as­sist­ant dis­trict at­tor­ney, her task force is a leg­al con­duit that aids neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents.

“If your safety and qual­ity of life are af­fected by a prop­erty in the neigh­bor­hood, then you are a vic­tim,” said Gross­man, a vet­er­an of the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice for nearly 20 years. “Your home is your castle, and you have every right to feel safe there. If you think any il­leg­al activ­ity is tak­ing place, call our hot­line (215-686-5858) and re­port as much de­tail as pos­sible. We don’t deal with bad be­ha­vi­or, but we can deal with prop­er­ties where bad be­ha­vi­or is com­ing from.”

In the end, Burns, Gross­man, Squilla and Mor­ace de­livered the same mes­sage: We’re here to help you if neigh­bors, in turn, help us.

If de­teri­or­at­ing prop­er­ties are re­por­ted to the prop­er of­fices, the hope is that the neigh­bor­hood even­tu­ally will turn around.

“Wheth­er it’s private homes or corner bars and li­quor stores, the prob­lems with the prop­er­ties are clear as day,” said res­id­ent Theresa Far­rell. “They pro­duce drug deal­ers, pros­ti­tu­tion, fights, stabbings, shoot­ings, stickups and rob­ber­ies. How are you sup­posed to walk by with your chil­dren? It’s not something you can’t see — it’s every­where in the com­munity.”

Black­ie re­it­er­ated the theme that every­one has to work to­ward the same goals.

“We are one com­munity and all need to work to­geth­er, no mat­ter where you live,” he said. “We need to take back our corners; that’s why we’re here. People want to talk about what the po­lice don’t do to help us, but a lot of it is about what we can do, too. If you put your feet to the beat and don’t just open your mouth, a lot of good can be done.” ••

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