New labor agreement could jumpstart Land Bank

The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation has reached a labor agreement with a bargaining unit representing 31 of its employees, the agency announced on Tuesday.

The agreement is the last of four that were needed for the Philadelphia Land Bank to become fully operational. When the bill creating a Land Bank was adopted at the end of 2013, the city agreed that it would negotiate new contracts with the four bargaining units whose members will help staff the new agency. Three of those units had agreed to terms earlier this year. But the last group, part of AFSCME Local 1971, was holding out for better terms over the summer. The unit had gone without a contract for 12 years.

The terms of the agreement won’t be announced until they’re ratified later this month, according to a press release from the Office of Housing and Community Development, which handles communications for the Land Bank. The agreement will enable the affected employees to work on Land Bank business, according to the press release.

In the same press release, it was announced that Michael Koonce will be leaving his position as director of PHDC. Koonce, who was unavailable for an interview Tuesday morning, is also the director of the Philadelphia Land Bank.

Officials said over the summer that the pending labor agreement was one of the main roadblocks preventing the Land Bank from starting its work in earnest. The Land Bank is currently talking with various City Council members to identify vacant properties in their districts to be transferred to the new agency.

Cities use land banks to acquire vacant, tax-delinquent properties and transfer them for reuse according to community-driven goals. Philadelphia, which adopted a strategic plan for its Land Bank last fall, is the biggest city in the country with such an entity.

Full press release below:


Agreement Covers Work for PHDC, Philadelphia Land Bank

The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation announced today that it has reached a tentative contract agreement with AFSCME Local 1971. The union represents 31 employees.

“I’m pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that is fair to both parties,” said Michael Koonce, Executive Vice President of PHDC. “Our bargaining unit staff play a key role as we improve housing conditions for low- and moderate-income Philadelphians. I appreciate the patience and commitment to our mission they have displayed while we negotiated this new contract.

Specific details of the tentative agreement will not be released until after Local 1971 leadership has briefed its membership.  However, the agreement largely mirrors those agreed to by unionized staff at the Office of Housing and Community Development and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

The agreement also includes a side letter that will enable PHDC staff to support the work of the Philadelphia Land Bank. This is the last agreement that will cover staff who will perform work for the Land Bank.

A ratification vote is expected to take place in the next two weeks.

PHDC also announced that Koonce will be leaving PHDC. His last day will be October 16.

“I have been fortunate to work with so many dedicated professionals at PHDC,” Koonce said. “I am pleased that we could reach this agreement before I left so that PHDC and its new leadership can focus solely on its mission.”

“Mike Koonce did a tremendous job in a financially challenging time,” said PHDC Board Chair Ken Weinstein. “Despite repeated cuts in federal funding, Mike kept PHDC focused on serving Philadelphians who need housing improvements. Thousands of Philadelphia homes are safer, more energy-efficient and more accessible because of his work.”

The PHDC Board is expected to name an interim Executive Vice President at its meeting later this month.

About the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation: PHDC provides housing services to low- and moderate-income Philadelphians. It enables owners to remain living safely in their homes through the Basic Systems Repair Program; offers owners and tenants energy-efficiency improvements through the Weatherization Assistance Program; and helps physically disabled persons live more independently in their houses or apartments through the Adaptive Modifications Program.


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