No one knows exactly how long the house on the unit block of Phil Ellena lay vacant. City records show it’s been empty since at least Sept. 2011. That’s when it was first cited by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections for being “vacant and open to the public.”
But Anuj Gupta, executive director of community development corporation Mt. Airy USA, says it’s been longer — at least since he’s started working at Mt. Airy USA, less than a block away, in 2010.
The use of a 2009 state law (PDF) allowed the group to breathe new life into the property that stands just off of Mt. Airy’s commercial corridor, Germantown Avenue. After gaining “conservatorship” of the property by proving it was abandoned and a nuisance to the community, the CDC started rehabilitating the property into a single-family home in January.
Mt. Airy USA is the first CDC in Philadelphia to successfully use the law to see the rehabilitation of an abandoned property through. On Thursday night, the completed property was opened up to the community for an open house. Once the property is checked by L&I, it will be put on the market.
After the house is sold, the money will go towards paying the back liens and taxes owed on the house. Then MAUSA will be reimbursed for the work they put into the property.
Gupta doesn’t expect it to stay on the market for long — three families have already shown interest.
Further down the street on Phil Ellena, a development company has taken up the project of finishing construction on a foundation that was abandoned when the recession hit. It’s coming up quickly, and while Gupta won’t directly attribute it to the renovation of 59 E. Phil Ellena, he said it definitely took the block in the right direction.
“A block like this can go one of two ways,” he said. “There are a lot of people here doing the right thing, keeping their homes up, but blight can slowly creep in. Then, a development company sees change and progress and it shows them ‘Hey, something is happening here.'”
Mt. Airy USA is currently working to gain conservatorship of a commercial property on Germantown Avenue that would be redeveloped into a mixed-used property. They go to court to testify on that property at the end of July.
It’s always possible the owner will step up in the meantime, however, and decide to do something with the property. That’s already happened to at least one of the properties MAUSA has attempted to gain conservatorship of.
In those cases, the law still serves its purpose, according to Brad Copeland of MAUSA.
“It shows [owners] that someone is paying attention,” said Copeland. “It holds them accountable.”
A year from now, the CDC hopes to have five to 10 properties in the pipeline to rehabilitate.