Mudslides Threaten Lodge, Force Road Closures

Philadelphia’s Anti-Blight Program Ahead of Schedule

Wed January 12, 2005 - Northeast Edition
CEG



PHILADELPHIA (AP) An anti-blight program launched more than two years ago to rid neighborhoods of thousands of abandoned, dilapidated houses has exceeded many of its goals, city officials said.

Mayor John Street, who has made the five-year program a centerpiece of his administration, said he “couldn’t be more pleased” with the progress.

“The Neighborhood Transformation Initiative [NTI] has, in many cases, exceeded its expectations,” the mayor said. “We have had neighborhoods in this city within the last year [that] have literally turned the corner in desirability and livability.”

The program is aimed at replacing vacant buildings and land with new homes and businesses. It is funded with $275 million in city bond funds, $250 million in federal funds, and more than $50 million in city general funds.

Critics said the program has failed to create enough new housing in its first two and a half years to replace the city’s many rundown buildings and vacant lots.

And some residents recently united to stop the city from tearing down two vacant houses, as well as a storefront church that was not vacant but was mistakenly listed as blighted.

“We’re the ones in the trenches who are experiencing their rosy picture, and it’s a lie,” said Rosemary Cubas, who has lived in the Norris Square neighborhood for more than three decades.

“They’re not taking blighted properties,” said Cubas, a member of a group called the Citywide Coalition to Save Our Homes. “They’re taking solid, well-organized communities and destroying them.”

Supporters said the program has rid many neighborhoods of the hulking, vacant buildings that kept potential developers away.

“What we’re hoping to do is create blocks where people want to be there, where they want to take pride in the neighborhood,” said Michael S. Schurr, president of a development company that is helping build more than 200 houses. “Without NTI, none of these things would be happening.”

The city said that as of June 30, 5,507 houses and apartments for low-income residents have been built or renovated. The goal was 3,500 in five years.

Also:

• 6,839 houses and apartments have been built or started in developments of 40 or more homes. The goal was 2,000 homes in five years.

• 6,885 buildings have been demolished or are under contract to be demolished. The goal was 8,000 to 10,000 demolitions in five years.

• 13,962 homeowners have received grants or low-interest loans to repair their homes. The goal was 4,500 preservation investments in five years.

• The initiative helped developers build or plan the construction of 7,653 market-rate homes. The five-year goal was 6,000.

The program has been helped by a booming real estate market that has inflated median housing prices by 26 percent over five years. The city’s 10-year tax abatement for new residential construction and the lowest mortgage rates in more than 30 years also have helped.

“If you think of the NTI proceeds as a stimulus to jump-start other activities … it has succeeded,” said Patricia L. Smith, director of the NTI.