Northwest Coalition of Civics asks for Council support on addressing problem rentals

Picking up on prior conversations, the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association (WICA) convened Wednesday night at the Northern Home for Children in Wissahickon to further community dialogue on one of the hottest topics in Northwest Philadelphia – problem rentals.

Assembling in the Northern Home’s boardroom, a dozen civic leaders, community members, and representatives from Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.’s office and Saint Joseph’s University were present to discuss rentals and other matters pertinent to the Wissahickon neighborhood.

Overseeing the proceedings was Charles Roller, Vice President of WICA. 

Coalition of Civics  

Providing a framework for the agenda was a letter written to 4th District Councilman Jones by Andrew Bantly, President of the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association (WNCA) and Spokesperson for the “Coalition of Civics.”

The Coalition of Civics is a partnership of six civic associations in Northwest Philadelphia that include WICA and WNCA, as well as the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, the Ridge Park Civic Association, the Central Roxborough Civic Association, and the Upper Roxborough Civic Association.

In his letter, Bantly asked Jones for support in establishing a protocol for neighborhood and city officials to follow when addressing problem rentals.

Foremost among the issues cited by Bantly were public safety and lost revenue to the city, the forfeiture of which places “additional strain on city services” and “forces the rest of the community to cover (these) costs.”

Bantly added that unforeseen consequences may exist in currently-compliant landlords foregoing license renewals because, in his words, “there are no repercussions against the illegal activity.”

He also noted that the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection has no mechanism in place to provide easy access to rental property lists. As a result of this, the six civic associations are independently assembling their own lists of illegal rentals.

Lastly, Bantly lamented that no follow-up had taken place in regard to an October meeting between Jones and various civic leaders, wherein the discussion of a proposed 4th Councilmanic District Student Task Force occurred.

Developing a strategy 

Representing Councilman Jones’s office was Deputy Chief of Staff Morgan Cephas, who confirmed receipt of Bantly’s letter in an email sent in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.

Cephas began with an overview of efforts to combat problem student rentals in the areas adjacent to Saint Joseph’s University, as previously reported by Newsworks.

For Northwest Philadelphia, Cephas said that a modified version of this plan is being developed – one that not only targets student housing, but addresses problem rentals in general.

“We realize that we have to come up with something different,” said Cephas in regard to NW Philadelphia, “because this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of plan.”

She said the strategy for Northwest Philadelphia will include a Task Force consisting of the 5th and 39th Police Districts, License and Inspections, and the “six families” of the Coalition of Civics.

The Task Force will be broken down into six or seven different committees to facilitate the exchange of ideas between the numerous organizations represented.

“We’re really excited about working with the six families,” said Cephas, “so that we can identify solutions that work for us all.”

The first meeting of the NW Philadelphia Task Force is slated to take place in the final week of December, and according to Cephas, will focus on law enforcement issues.

She said that their goal was to have the Task Force in place before the Spring 2012 semester, establishing a visible presence in areas of concentrated student rentals such that, as Cephas put it, “everybody gets the message.”

Cephas also addressed the loss of revenue to the city stemming from non-resident renters.

She said that there has been discussion within the Councilman’s office about imposing fees on leased properties that exist in areas with rental rates higher than 75-percent, in order to provide revenue for city services.

Cephas said that the intricacies of the legislation are still being discussed.

Creating a paper trail 

On hand to provide insight into the student rental enforcement apparatus at Saint Joseph’s University was Wadell Ridley, Assistant Vice-President of Government and Community Relations.

Using a reputed party house on Manayunk Avenue as an example, Ridley said that he examined previous incident reports and found that no previous complaints had been lodged against this address.

He then emphasized that any complaints about SJU students should be directed to him or to SJU’s Office of Public Safety and Security – 610-666-1111 – as this will generate an incident report.

“This creates a paper trail,” said Ridley, “that I need and that student affairs needs.”

He said that PO Charles Kline, Quality of Life officer for the PPD’s 5th district, is a model of this procedure.

“Officer Kline calls periodically and says, ‘I went to this house, and to this house’,” explained Ridley, who then forwards emails to relevant offices.

Ridley, however, expressed concern about the failure of law enforcement agencies in both Philadelphia and Lower Merion to police in a more thorough and consistent fashion.

He emphasized that further intelligence – the submission of written reports – and an increased patrol presence at known party houses would have positive impacts on both public safety and quality of life.

WICA meets the 2nd Wednesday of every month at the Northern Home for Children in Wissahickon.

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