PHA to auction 200 vacant properties in July

Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke has questions about the future of affordable housing in the city. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke has questions about the future of affordable housing in the city. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Two-hundred vacant properties the city cannot afford to rehab or maintain are on their way to the auction block on July 18, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced Tuesday.

PHA said proceeds from the auction would help to renovate sites the agency is not selling and so provide more affordable housing throughout the city.

At a news conference in North Philadelphia, PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah said vacant properties owned by the city are “a source, frankly, of blight in our community.”

“They serve really no public purpose by sitting idly,” he added.

Jeremiah noted that federal funding to PHA has decreased dramatically since deep budget cuts known as the sequester went into effect in March.

With money tight, the agency needs auction profits and tax revenue from new property ownership to continue serving approximately 80,000 residents who rely on it for housing.

City Council President Darrell Clarke also appeared at the announcement to offer his support.

“No longer will these two fine long-term neighborhood residents have to worry about vacant properties next door to their house,” he said, referring to the lot the conference used as its backdrop.

Clarke said progress from an auction could happen “relatively quickly,” with six out of a nearby set of 10 properties auctioned off previously already rehabilitated by their owner.

The third auction since 2011

PHA’s first two auctions date back to 2011, when the agency sold 341 properties for a combined $6.4 million.

As in these previous auctions, the properties to be offered next month are “scattered sites,” individual public housing units that stand alone rather than being part of larger developments.

Most lots up for auction in July are located in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia has more scattered sites than any other city in the country, at one time owning approximately 8,000 such properties.

To ensure auctioned lots are actually rehabilitated, new property owners must submit a plan for renovation to PHA within three years. For the lots auctioned in 2011, that deadline is coming up at the end of this year.

Owners then have five years to renovate the site. Should they fail to do so, their properties will revert to the city without being reimbursed.

Who’s buying?

When the first auction took place in 2011, most properties were offered as multisite packages in an effort to attract large developers. Some parcels had as many as 33 lots.

That tactic didn’t sit well with local residents, who felt bundling the properties put them outside the price range of potential buyers with their eyes on neighborhood vacancies.

The city opted to offer individual parcels for the second auction later that year.

At the news conference outside one property up for auction in North Philadelphia, Jeremiah assured locals the same policy would carry over for this round of sales.

“Anyone who is interested and who has the money can come to these auctions, they can purchase these properties, and they can rehab [them],” he said. “In fact what we hope is that folks in the community will take this opportunity to acquire and reposition the properties.”

Across the street, neighbor Alina Oliver said the auction would be a good thing for the community, even if offerings might still be out of her price range.

“I have a lot that’s sitting next to my home. For me to purchase this lot, I have to spend like $8,000, $9,000 – for the lot!” she said. “Is that really an opportunity for us? So I believe the only opportunity that we do have is to see a brighter picture when we come outside.”

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