West Philly state rep. to introduce bill banning sheriff sales through August

Homes on North 50th Street in West Philadelphia.

Homes on North 50th Street in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A West Philadelphia legislator will introduce a bill to halt sheriff sales in the city through much of the summer — just days before auctions are slated to resume.

Rep. Amen Brown, pictured, is seeking to prevent the Philadelphia sheriff from resuming sales of distressed properties. (Amen Brown)

The auctions of distressed real estate have been suspended for a year due to concerns linked to the pandemic. However, state Rep. Amen Brown, who represents the 190th District in West Philly, issued a memo Wednesday seeking co-sponsors for a bill to suspend the auctions “until after the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration has been lifted.”

“This bill is about myself and my colleagues doing what we can in our capacity to protect our constituents and make sure they’re not being taken advantage of during a time where many are experiencing financial hardship,” Brown said.

The first-term legislator said the bill would effectively suspend sales until at least August of this year. While a moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently prohibits foreclosure sales on properties with federally-backed mortgages, others are fair game.

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Brown indicated that he had already secured co-sponsors from Harrisburg’s Philadelphia delegation and would introduce a bill imminently.

“The Philly Delegation members and I are looking to solve problems and prevent further hardships,” Brown said, noting others had heard from constituents concerned about losing property to tax or foreclosure sales.

However, even if the bill were not opposed, it would likely take several weeks to pass through Harrisburg. That means the first sales — starting on April 6 — would continue as planned.

The Sheriff’s Office has maintained that it is subject to a court order resuming tax and foreclosure sales. A representative for the Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the still-pending introduction of Brown’s legislation.

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Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has faced criticism for the resumption of sales, which will happen online. Philadelphia Councilmember Cherelle Parker has called for hearings related to the restart of sales and a decision to outsource the work to a private online auction house called “Bid4Assets.” Critics have said the move will increase out-of-town real estate speculation.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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