Blight task-force pilot program to launch during Council’s summer recess

When City Council’s summer recess starts later this month, it will not have launched the proposed “Problem Property Task Force” (PPTF), an initiative aimed at addressing blight on a community level.

However, the wait does not mean it is any less important to Northwest Philadelphia.

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass co-sponsored the PPTF bill, as did every legislator, which would further efforts to penalize those who disregard city ordinances. Such a move would add teeth to Bass’ pre- and post-election “blight is unacceptable” mantra.

It surfaced at an April hearing in “Blight Court” surrounding a problem property on the 5300 block of Knox St. in Germantown, which has been a community eyesore for more than a decade.

It also came up during an interview with her spokesman, Joe Corrigan, last week.

“We’re formalizing a process that is in large demand in a lot of our neighborhoods. A great example is that Knox Street case,” Corrigan said. The PPTF bill “won’t be heard in committee until September, but it’s our sense that it would be implemented quickly. This is sorely needed in Germantown, in Nicetown/Tioga, in other parts of the district.”

The back story

The bill itself, which was introduced in April (PDF), calls for the formation of a task force which would designate problem properties. It also calls on the Mayor’s office to appoint people to a group which would also consist of community members.

Among its biggest responsibilities would be determining whether what perceived as an eyesore is also a “problem property” which has two or more code violations in the previous 24 months.

Also up for discussion is whether conditions threaten neighbors’ quality of life or pose significant dangers. In the case of the latter, a police officer could be posted at the property.

Owners of problem properties would be sent notice of task-force findings, as well as one posted on the property itself. If a violation is not corrected within 14 days, heavy fines would follow.

For each day beyond the most recent violation, the property owner would face a fine of up to $2,000 per day, according to the bill. They could be responsible for the cost of posting an officer there, as well as if Licenses & Inspection workers are called out.

The PPTF could also recommend regular L&I inspections and call the Department of Revenue to pursue foreclosure proceedings.

If the property is vacant, the PPTF could recommended the property to the Commissioner of Public Property for acquisition and ask the Police Department to provide testimony and evidence in an eviction proceeding.

“Problem property” status could be lifted in owners maintain a “clean slate” without violations for two years, or if ownership is transferred.

A pilot run

The bill’s primary sponsor is Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon who represents sections of Northeast Philadelphia.

Courtney Voss, Henon’s legislative director, said the goal is to get PPTF running before year’s end.

Voss noted that a pilot run of the task force will begin in the Sixth District this summer. It will start with a small-scale election, of sorts, to appoint community members to the task force.

She noted that nominations will be accepted online, or in writing, and district residents will be able “to elect their neighbors to represent them.” An announcement about when nominations can be sent in is expected within the next two weeks, Voss said.

“It’s a pretty big undertaking,” said Voss. “We want to get it right.”

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