Section 8 enforcement discussed at Holme Circle civic meeting

Active residents are the surest way to help keep Philadelphia Housing Authority-subsidized properties responsible members of neighborhoods, said Holme Circle Civic Association president Sean McAleer last night.

“The PHA is doing some great things”, McAleer said at the civic meeting.  “But as a civic we have to look out for ourselves.”

The president’s words came after a well-received presentation by Edward Geiger, the commander of the PHA police department. Geiger, who has led the city housing authority’s police force for four years, was invited by the association after some complaints surrounding a PHA property on Walnut Hill Street, but fears of the housing choice voucher program – formerly known and still commonly referred to as Section 8 housing, –  persist throughout the Northeast.

At last night’s meeting, two Holme Circle residents who came from Oxford Circle and a third who grew up in Olney said their neighborhoods were ruined by the unchecked growth of the program, which they said bred a population who didn’t care about or care for the community, but Geiger said the city’s enforcement of the housing choice voucher program has improved.

Pollock Playground problems

Police officers have now been told to arrest for trespassing anyone seen in the Pollock playground at Welsh Road and Tolbut Street after 10 p.m, according to a report from two representatives of the 8th district attending last night’s meeting.

Several arrests for narcotics had recently been made, the officers said, and many residents expressed concern over underage drinking, vandalism and litter associated with the playground.

“Adults need to make their presence felt,” said Officer Ragland, from the community patrol. “It’s a playground, yes, but the adults need to take back the community.”

“We’re doing our best to turn this around,” Geiger said, trying to calm those and other numerous concerns raised by Holme Circle residents regarding poorly kept lawns and homes in disrepair. Residents can call Geiger’s force — which is trained and sanctioned by the city’s police department — for any nuisance properties and expect strong oversight and responsive agents.

His office’s radio room phone number is (215) 684-1911.

While the housing authority cannot disclose to residents which homes are subsidized by the PHA, they will respond to complaints about all properties, Geiger said. Complaints related to those residences that aren’t paid for by housing choice vouchers will be routed to other city agencies.

Philadelphia is one of only 10 city housing authorities in the country that have a specialized enforcement agency, Geiger said, and only Philly’s has a dedicated team for Section 8 oversight. Geiger’s team deals heavily with issues surrounding unauthorized occupancy, cost discrepancies, eligibility disputes and more apparent concerns over maintenance and upkeep. Because of the frequency of complaints surrounding the look and care of a property, Geiger said his office works closely with the Community Life Improvement Program, popularly known as CLIP.

Helping his office by offering information and tips can help keep the system in check, Geiger said, and complaints won’t be ignored.

“My office once responded to calls within 72 hours,” he said. “I’ve been in charge for four years, and in that time, I’ve gotten that down to 24 hours.”

Residents can offer complaints anonymously or even with a code name, Geiger said.

After Geiger’s presentation, McAleer, the civic president, thanked him for his time and again praised the work the city, PHA and Geiger’s force are trying to do “for people who need a hand.” McAleer said again that if residents stay vigilant and use the civic to weed out absentee landlords, misused properties and other nuisances that are often associated with government subsidized housing, Holme Circle can keep its valued character.

“Some neighborhoods don’t care anymore. They don’t want to make the phone calls anymore,” McAleer said. “Well, that’s what your civic is for. That’s what we’re here for… Let’s do this together.”

Other civic issues discussed: The civic needs more members and a handful of board positions filled, McAleer said… McAleer is collecting information about the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard overpass at Pennypack Circle, the construction of which has been delayed to 2011 because of the economy… No update has come from the civic’s fight against a disputed T-Mobile cell-phone tower in the neighborhood.

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