Community Development Corporations across the city now have a new tool when it comes to battling blight as Mt. Airy USA became the first organization in Philadelphia to take conservatorship of a long-standing neglected property.
“This is an important milestone,” said Mt. Airy USA Executive Director Anuj Gupta. “This city has been ransacked by blight, and this gives us a way to help our communities.”
When a property goes into conservatorship, a community organization becomes responsible for bringing that property up to municipal code when the owners fail to do so.
This process allows a community organization to take a blighted property and turn it back into a contributing property.
For example, the property that Mt. Airy USA took over is at 59 E. Phil Ellena St., and that one property owes $10,000 in back taxes and water bills.
“We have property owners who think it’s okay to not pay taxes,” Gupta said. “This gives us a new tool in our arsenal, and we plan on using it aggressively.”
Gupta said that Mt. Airy USA created a blighted property database when it started this project, and in just one small section of East Mt. Airy bordered by Washington and Gorgas Lanes and Germantown and Stenton Avenues there was $2.1 million in delinquent taxes owed the city.
“This is a problem citywide,” Gupta said. “In the last 10 years, Philadelphia has accrued over $70 million in delinquent taxes owed.”
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections spends $20 million annually maintaining blighted properties.
“This is a real success for the city,” said Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams. “It shows that through partnerships we can fight decay.”
“I’m giddy,” said State Representative Charelle Parker. “I’m giddy that today we got something done.”
Parker as well as Gupta said that the whole process would have been impossible without community partnerships.
“This is something I want to see done in every neighborhood,” Parker said. “But you need to create those partnerships. This process is too much for one organization to handle.”
Gupta said that Mt. Airy USA picked the property at 59 E. Phil Ellena St. in order to help the block.
“There are a lot of long standing homeowners on that block,” Gupta said. “But there’s a little bit of blight creeping in.”
Gupta added, “We’re hoping that by fixing up this property we can stabilize this block. It was an obvious choice.”
According to Gupta, the rehabilitation of the property should cost between $60,000 and $70,000, and he hopes to have it completed by March.
Once the property is finished it will be sold. Proceeds from the sale will go to pay for the rehabilitation as well as any back taxes owed.
Gupta also said that he hopes to use this process on 5 to ten properties every year.
“I’m a firm believer that you can put any type of business on Germantown Avenue you want,” said Jimmie Reed who owns Little Jimmie’s Bakery Café. “But without the right homeowners they won’t be successful. This takes a step towards getting the right kind of homeowner.”
Reed added, “This property has been an eyesore for the community for a long time. This allows us to the right thing by putting the right family in a home.”