The River Wards, like many parts of Philadelphia, are unfortunately plagued by blighted land and properties. Thankfully, though, those neighborhoods are also full of neighbors working to change things. With this story, Star begins a new series, “The Blight Fight.”
Janine Bosancic has lived on the 3400 block of Edgemont Street for more than 14 years, and for the past few, has lived next door to a falling-down, tax-delinquent, blighted property.
So she and her husband decided to do something about it.
“We saw an opportunity to improve in a neighborhood we have known and loved for our whole life,” she said.
More than five years ago, an elderly man who had been living in the house before moving into a nursing home passed away, and no family members claimed any of his belongings or shut his utilities off. The house eventually owed $8,000 in back taxes, and all the while, it fell into disrepair, right next to Bosancic’s own home.
“His family didn’t want anything to do with it…the city of Philadelphia, it wasn’t on their priority list, which is why neighborhoods fall apart,” she said.
She said the man that had owned the house since the 1940s had never repaired the house, and the roof was caving in and the front porch was falling off.
“We had plans to move out of the neighborhood and had no idea how we’d be able to sell our house with such an eyesore next door,” she said.
So she reached out to State Rep. (R-177th dist.) John Taylor’s office for help. Bosancic said she hoped to pass it through sheriff’s sale to buy it, and Taylor’s office assigned her to a Department of Public Welfare attorney, who was charged with setting up multiple estates. Over two years, she didn’t see much development on the case.
During that time, Bosancic said, squatters broke into the property in August of 2011, claiming they bought it through sheriff’s sale.
“We did everything in our power, we went and boarded up the whole house, he still went in,” she said. “He [was bold] like you wouldn’t believe. We were constantly on watch.”
The squatters were arrested twice. One, Bosancic said, was intending to steal the deed to the house.
Following Bosancic and her husband’s diligence and the squatters’ arrests, Bosancic said she and her attorney really tried to step up in taking ownership of the house so that Bosancic could turn it around.
Since then, she and her husband had been waiting for the day of the sale, which officially came on Jan. 22.
Now, she said she’s thrilled. Future plans for the property, she said, are still up in the air. After they fix it up, they might sell it, or rent it out.
“I’ve never been more excited, because it’s just been such a journey to get here,” she said. “I can’t wait to restore it to its full potential.”
She said her husband, James, works in construction, and her father has experience fixing and rehabbing houses, so turning the house around is something of a family project.
Marc Collazzo, district office manager for State Rep. Taylor, said that as part of The Conservatorship Act —Act 135 — estates were opened for all possible heirs by using a provision in the state estates code that allows the appoint of an administrator of “any fit person.” In this case, he said, any fit person can go to court and essentially say, “appoint me” as the administrator of any estate.
The office also worked, he said, to have an attorney appointed for five different estates, and now all liens and delinquent taxes are paid off.
Bosancic said that Taylor has a big push to keep blighted properties at bay.
“John Taylor’s office was fantastic,” she said.
Collazzo said the property on Bosancic’s block was already on his “list” — he works with the city’s office of Licenses and Inspections to get houses like these cleaned up, and Taylor’s legislation does indeed include giving vacant properties productive use.
His job in the process, he said, was to help make sure the property was sealed up and guide Bosancic through the process of buying the property.
“I give her and her husband a lot of credit,” he said. “Oftentimes, what will happen is we’ll get the calls and we’ll get it as secured as we can, but they [Bosancic and her husband] secured it at their own time and expense.”
Calling her a “bulldog,” Collazzo said Bosancic’s situation is a real success story from beginning to end.
State Rep. Taylor agreed.
“It’s just one example of the kind of thing we’re trying to do,” he said. “The impact of one [bad] house on a good block is very important to keep residents there and for the property values on the neighborhood.”
He said houses like the one Bosancic now owns are magnets for vandalism and vagrants.
The Act 135 method, he said, is one of the tools his office has tried to help develop along with other parts of the city.
On his website, www.reptaylor.com, Taylor’s staff has included a “Vacant Property Update,” where properties listed are “a summary of the actions taken by State Representative John Taylor, with the help of the community, to address blighted properties throughout the district.” That page can be found at www.reptaylor.com/vacant_property.aspx.
Residents of the district can call Taylor’s office to report such delinquent or vacant properties, just like Bosancic did. There are, Taylor said, many different methods of solving delinquent or blighted property problems.
“We solve the problems one by one,” he said. “There’s no ‘one size fits all’ in terms of solutions.”
State Rep. John Taylor’s office is located at 2901 E. Thompson St., call 215-425-0901.
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.