BY RORY McGLASSON/ Councilman Kenyatta Johnson wants to sit down with developers who are concerned about the City’s plan to acquire property through eminent domain in Point Breeze.
Johnson has come under-fire from some local developers after introducing a bill – on behalf of the Mayor and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority – to acquire dozens of properties through eminent domain for affordable housing.
RDA received approval over three months ago to proceed with a plan to build affordable housing in the Point Breeze Urban Renewal Area: south of Washington Avenue to Morris Street, between Broad and 25th. The plan is to acquire 43 properties by the end of the year and develop them in three stages.
The problem, according to developers, is they own some of these parcels.
Initially there were 93 properties on the list cited by the RDA, but 50 properties have been taken off the list. Of the 43 remaining, 12 of the properties are already owned by the City. The rest are privately owned, but most are vacant, blighted and or tax-delinquent. Seven of the properties owe a total of $40,711 in back taxes. Each of the seven has tax balances over $1,000 (between $1,800 and $11,600).
Local developers have accused the City of “grabbing the land”, and have questioned why the city does not develop on parcels of land they currently own in the area. “In the area that’s targeted for redevelopment, there are not 300 properties,” Johnson said. “The idea is not to snatch properties from people currently developing either,” he said. “It’s my understanding that most of these buildings are blighted – and have been sitting blighted for years.”
Johnson notes it’s the beginning of a larger process for him when it comes to affordable housing and creating sustainable mixed-income affordable housing in his district.
“I have an affordable housing program of my own, but the initial process starts with the RDA.
“I don’t set the policies. But I support OHCD mission and focus on affordable housing which I think is a win-win for everyone – especially with AVI coming.”
A local developer, coffeeshop owner Ori Feibush, believes the City wants to grab the land unfairly and is leading a petition against the bill. To date, 700 people have signed the petition. The bill is crafted by the RDA along with the Office of Housing Commercial Development.
There’s nothing unusual about this, according to Paul Chrystie, of OHCD. “The city supports sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods, and the process of acquiring parcels to advance that goal is a common one. In Point Breeze, the City is acquiring parcels as part of a strategy to preserve affordability in an appreciating neighborhood,” he said.
Feibush believes the city wants to grab the land before the beginning of the year 2013, when eminent-domain rules will change.
The funds that will be used to acquire the acquisition of the land is $1.7 million of restricted funding, which comes from federal gov. Another $2million comes under the Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The RDA is responsible for picking the land.
Johnson noted that if developers come forward they can be struck off the list.
Since taking over the second district in January, Johnson said he has supported the sale of City-owned properties resulting in 33 market-rate houses. Johnson said he is thinking of posting a meeting for all developers in the area so to address issues and concerns ” I’m willing to work with all stakeholders who have respect for the community,” Johnson said.
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