Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Makes it Easier for Homeowners to Claim Vacant Property With New WebsiteBy Andy Sharpe |
Mayor Nutter, City Council, and community groups all recognize vacant land and buildings as one of the weightiest woes Philadelphia faces. This is a problem that groups as geographically diverse as Kensington Renewal, Southwest (Philadelphia) CDC, and Germantown United are all trying to stymie.
Thankfully for those tired of vacant land, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has developed a new website, www.phillylandworks.org, to accompany their reformed vacant property disposition policy. While many Philadelphians are unaware of the new policy or website, both have been making it less cumbersome for city homeowners to acquire abandoned property or land.
The PRA quietly instituted the new property disposition policy in May, and has received over 700 Expressions of Interest (EoI) since from homeowners fatigued about community bight, says Paul Chrystie, director of communications for the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which helps handle communications for the PRA.
This revised policy replaces a reviled process that frustrated homeowners looking to purchase vacant land or property at a deep discount. “There was a general consensus that there needed to be a more consistent, transparent and easy to use property disposition system,” admits Chrystie.
Indeed, Philadelphia homeowners can now find unused land and detailed directions about how to apply to purchase such parcels on a new PRA website. The website gives step by step directions on how residents can turn vacant land into side yards, community gardens, new housing, and other productive uses. Interestingly, the website also features a comprehensive map showing all of the land available across the city under this program. Note that visitors need Microsoft Silverlight on their computer to be able to view the map.
In order to participate in the new program, residents should complete an EoI form on the new website and attach and e-mail tax and public disclosure forms. Applicants must also have the support of their district councilperson. According to Chrystie, this process could take as little as three to four months, or drag on for as long as nine to twelve months.
OHCD and the PRA divulge that this new policy has not been without challenges. “The prior system was in place for many years, and so for both city agencies and personnel and for external stakeholders, this is a very different process,” says Chrystie. “As with any significant change, it will take some getting used to.”
Architects of this new policy expect around 350 more EoIs to be filed online, says Chrystie. Despite this number and the 700 applications that have already trickled in, many Philadelphians don’t seem very well aware of this new policy.
In Northwest Philadelphia, Cornelia Swinson at the G’Town Restoration CDC didn’t seem familiar with the new policy and had no idea if any EoIs had been filed in Central Germantown. In South Philadelphia, the South of South Neighbors Association (SOSNA), which has successfully battled vacant land in Southwest Center City, didn’t provide comment. In Kensington, the New Kensington CDC did not respond to inquiries about the policy. A scan of the hyperlocal online forum Philadelphia Speaks found no threads on the topic.
The PRA is banking on the new website to get the word out about the simpler disposition process, and is open to suggestions on how to improve it. “The website is a work in progress, and we welcome constructive feedback to help make it better,” says Chrystle. In addition to the interactive map and the ability to file an Expression of Interest, visitors can also track a previously filed EoI and read over a list of the myriad available vacant parcels, the latter of which does not require Silverlight.
While some community groups aren’t familiar with the morphed policy, they’re eager to support it. Swinson, the director of the G’Town Restoration, says her Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC) is happy to assist local residents in “walking through the process” of acquiring vacant land. Chrystie adds that he has only encountered support in his dealings with community and neighborhood groups, City Council members, urban farmers and gardeners, private and for-profit developers, and CDCs.blog comments powered by Disqus