Nutter to hold anti-blight roll-out in Richmond

The city Department of Licenses and Inspections this week planned to officially launch a three-pronged approach to dealing with the owners of vacant, blighted property.

Fran Burns, the agency’s commissioner, was scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday in Port Richmond to outline a vacant-land initiative. The event will take place at noon today on the 3000 block of Richmond Street, near Indiana.

The program features:

• A research team that culls several databases to find accurate names and addresses for the owners of vacant properties.

• Enforcement of a “doors and windows” ordinance that allows L&I to charge owners $300 per day per opening for each door and window that is not functional. The city also can attach liens to the owners’ personal assets and is considering taking the properties to sheriff’s sale for L&I debts.

• Dedicated days in Municipal Court, where Judge Brad Moss hears cases involving these properties.

“You can’t just leave your property vacant in Philadelphia,” Burns said.

The effort actually has been ongoing since April, and L&I workers have conducted more than 1,500 vacant-structure inspections. Some 1,300 of those inspections have led to enforcement, and many of those properties are now occupied.

Of the 176 properties that L&I has cited for window and door violations two or more times, 50 owners have complied, the city said last week.

The first “blight court” session took place on Sept. 20. Of the 48 cases listed, 35 were entered into a consent agreement, meaning the owners must install windows and doors within 30 or 60 days.

Those 35 cases will generate more than $87,000 in revenue to the city from payment of license fees, back taxes and fines.

A second court date was set for this past Tuesday.

Letters from the city solicitor and L&I seem to be having a bigger impact than a mere violation notice.

“We’ve seen good success already, and it’s made a noticeable difference,” Burns said.

The commissioner said her inspectors, supervisors and researchers are ecstatic with the initiative’s early success.

“They feel really good about this program because they see the fruit of their work,” she said.

At the same time, researchers have been unable to track down many owners, and they’ve found that others have died.

In all, there are an estimated 20,000 vacant properties in Philadelphia, a huge chore to attack.

“We’re realistic,” Burns said.

Still, she noted, attention has to be paid to the problem. Vacant properties discourage investment and encourage squatters and animals. The structures deteriorate and can cause damage to adjacent buildings.

“There are a lot of negative impacts,” the commissioner said. ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com