Philadelphia Archdiocese Sells Delco Property, 2 Others For $56.2M

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Thursday announced the sale of three suburban properties for $56.2 million and said it will use the proceeds to help plug gaps in its balance sheet.

In addition to the previously reported sale of a 200-plus-acre property in Delaware County to Jenkintown-based Goodman Properties for $47 million, the Archdiocese said that it had an agreement to sell a 454-acre property in Northampton County for $5.5 million, and that it had sold 55 acres in Chester County for $3.7 million.

The $3.7 million from the sale of excess land at the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, a behavioral-health center for clergy and woman religious, was deposited into the archdiocesan priests’ pension fund, which previously had a $76.3 million deficit. The buyer was Woodbine Partners L.P.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20141003_Archdiocese_sells_Delco_property__2_others_for__56_2M.html#85J5QPF07OFiZsCw.99

Steps Taken To Address Building Blight, But Lancaster May Still Move To Take Problem Property

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Annville developer Kenneth Wenger has paid back taxes, ensured the grounds of the former G.E. Richards building are clean and the grass cut.

He has resolved nearly all the issues that led city inspectors to declare the 502-506 W. Walnut St. property blighted.

But that didn’t stop city Redevelopment Authority board members on Tuesday from voting to begin the process of taking the property by eminent domain.

In April, the board gave Wenger until Sept. 30 to address blighted conditions. The taking could occur in as little as 90 days unless Wenger takes action.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/steps-taken-to-address-building-blight-but-city-may-still/article_479f45ec-3e09-11e4-bf1e-0017a43b2370.html

Long-Planned Scranton Transit Center Makes Progress

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The transportation hub planned for downtown Scranton is making solid progress after years of delays and false starts.

The County of Lackawanna Transit System has received the go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration to open negotiations for the acquisition of two properties needed as part of the $12.6 million intermodal transit center project, COLTS Executive Director Robert Fiume said.

In addition, the project design by Sowinski Sullivan Architects, Sparta, N.J., is 60 percent complete.

“Should things stay on track – and I don’t even know if I want to say this – but if they stay on track, it looks like we can break ground in April or May,” Mr. Fiume said.

His hesitation is understandable, given the project’s history.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/long-planned-transit-center-makes-progress-1.1593946

Scranton Landlords, Homeowners And Renters Brace For Tax Hikes

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

University of Scranton students Bridget McVeigh and Ashley Opalka are apartment hunting with two criteria in mind: proximity to campus and lower prices than the university’s dorms.

The pair were alarmed city landlords are poised to hike rents in response to a proposed 2014 Scranton budget that would raise property taxes 56.7 percent, garbage fees 68.5 percent and rental registration fees from $50 to $150 per structure and $15 to $50 per unit.

Landlord Carol Smurl said she tries “to be compassionate to the tenants because they’re on a fixed income,” but she and her husband cannot afford to absorb that kind of increase.

Normally, Mrs. Smurl waits until tenants move out to raise the rent or tries to delay passing increased costs on for two to three years at her nine properties.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-landlords-homeowners-and-renters-brace-for-tax-hikes-1.1590772

Landlords question Wilkes-Barre’s ‘One-Strike’ Rental Policy

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE — A proposed ordinance to “get tough” on crime by targeting problem rental properties passed the first reading by City Council on Tuesday night, and drew a mixed response from residents and landlords.

The amendment that sets a “one-strike” limit for landlords or tenants who know of gun and drug crimes committed on the property still needs a second reading at council’s Sept. 12 meeting before it can be enacted 10 days later.

But landlord Chris Puma of Ashley cautioned against proceeding with the amendment and suggested that instead of “punishing the landlord” the city hire more police and code enforcement officers.

He presented a scenario in which the six-month shutdown of a property as stated in the amendment cuts off the revenue for a landlord who has no knowledge of his tenant’s criminal activity.  From there, the landlord conceivably can’t pay the taxes, the property ends up at a sheriff’s sale and the city loses tax revenue.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news/752677/Landlords-question-one-strike

New Pottstown Law Charges Fee To Owners Of Vacant Property

Editor’s note:  The only way this is worth the paper it’s printed on is IF it’s enforced.  The track record for enforcing ordinances in Pottstown is poor.  There are loitering ordinances on file but look at High Street.  “ZZ Top” and company lingering aimlessly around the clock tower, panhandlers, drop in center people hanging around etc…  Why not enforce the laws already on the books!  That would offer immediate improvement.

POTTSTOWN — With a 4-1 vote Monday, borough council adopted a new ordinance which requires the owners of vacant property to register those properties with the borough and to pay an escalating registration fee for each year the property remains vacant.

According to the ordinance, the owners of vacant property must not only register it, but secure it against illegal entry and even post a sign on the property, indicating the name, address and telephone number of the owner.

Starting Sept. 1, when the ordinance goes into effect, owners of vacant residential property must pay a $75 registration fee. If the property is vacant a year later, the registration fee is $125, and $175 the year after that. For every other subsequent year the property is vacant, the registration fee is $275.

Vacant multi-family dwellings will see their registration fee rise from $200 to $400 and industrial or commercial buildings smaller than 10,000 square feet have a first-time fee of $250 that rises to $450 by the fourth year.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130217/NEWS01/130219607/new-pottstown-law-charges-fee-to-owners-of-vacant-property#full_story

For Shame, Lousy Landlords

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Thumbs UP!

That’s what they’re doing in Pittsburgh.

City council voted recently to reinstate a public-shaming program aimed at irresponsible landlords.

The new law requires the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection to identify the 10 most dilapidated structures and the Department of Public Works to put up signs with the owners’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

Under the “Operation Red” program, the signs will say, “Don’t Come Here.  Don’t Invest Here.”

The signs are intended to shame landlords, but some critics predict they will embarrass tenants more.  Other critics say the signs may hasten the demise of particular streets or neighborhoods.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/796288_For-shame–lousy-landlords.html#ixzz2Fz0gnkXC

14 Houses Put On Blighted List By Reading Panel

The city’s Blighted Property Review Committee on Thursday certified 14 more houses as blighted, despite requests from some owners for more time to fix them.

It also removed six properties from its target list because owners had resolved problems. And it tabled action on three other properties.

Despite the certifications – which allow the city to take the properties, by eminent domain if necessary – the owners are in little jeopardy of the homes being wrested from them any time soon.

The Reading Redevelopment Authority, which would take ownership of the homes, has said it won’t take any property unless the city has an identified use for it – which is rare.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=386947

Blight Eradication In Wilkes-Barre Neighborhood

After some legal wrangling, three blighted properties on Monroe Street in Wilkes-Barre were demolished.  The blighted properties became dumping grounds and the neighbors were bothered by noxious odors for several years.  There have also been multiple fires (arson) at the site over the last two-years which have been a great concern for neighbors. 

Blighted, and in this case vacant, properties are magnets for vandalism, squatters, dumping and rodents.  These properties were jeopardizing the stability of an otherwise nice neighborhood.  Repeated fires also created serious safety hazards for neighboring residents.  Another issue here, there is an $18,000 tax lien on the property, which is still owned by Christopher Street Realty.  The city is being reimbursed for the demolition of the derelict properties.

Kudos to Wilkes-Barre for taking the necessary steps to demolish these blighted properties and making this neighborhood safe and healthy once again!

Pottstown Council Meeting Highlights – 10/12/10

The meeting was called to order by President Toroney.

Councilors Allen and Gibson were not in attendance.  (Councilor Allen arrived late, after the roll call was taken.)

Minutes were approved.

Comments from the peeps (full house tonight)

A member of the Human Relations Committee requested locks on doors and file cabinets.  Currently they have neither and sensitive documents are stored at committee member’s homes.  They also requested a computer and a database. (Now there’s a thought in 2010!!)

A condo owner from the Light Foundry complex told council that the condo owners pay their association fees each month to a manager who is supposed to be paying the bills for the complex.  This person is not doing that.  Their water is scheduled to be shut off this month.  They cannot afford to pay their bills twice.  They owe the borough $13k!  They are paying $200 a month for association fees that should cover water/sewer/trash.

A resident from E. Second St. said there is trash everywhere and the rental/Section 8 people make a mess.  The street is mostly renters.

A property owner spoke against the new rental ordinance.  He said he feels the Sunshine Law was broken and that the ordinance content has changed since being presented to the property owners.  He also stated that the ordinance does not meet the plain language guidelines as dictated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

A Pottstown landlord and realtor said she hears all the time that Pottstown is too difficult to work with from investors and prospective homeowners are also not interested in Pottstown.  She also objected to some language in the new rental ordinance.

Another landlord said he felt the Sunshine Law was broken by Council and the Borough Manager.  President Toroney vigorously defended Council and Jason by stating that this has been discussed at the last 5 or 6 public meetings and in many committees for months.  Council has been continuously advised and given drafts of the ordinance in progress.  Pottstown’s new rental ordinance is based on the Gettysburg Pennsylvania ordinance. 

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_application.pdf

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_addendum.pdf

Another opponent of the rental ordinance spoke.  She said she doesn’t think Pottstown has sufficient code enforcement officers to enforce the new ordinance.  The new ordinance gives Codes the power to direct landlords to evict tenants.

Jeff Leflar (Code Blue) read an excellent and fact-filled prepared statement outlining Pottstown’s current demographics and spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing proposal. 

Mary Beth Lydon (Code Blue) spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project.  A petition was presented to council with over 70 signatures opposing the senior project.  Many people Code Blue talked to at the River Festival on Saturday were not aware of this project and did not support it.  She also outlined this demonstrated a lack of communication from the borough to its residents.

Another investor/landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.  He referred to it as heavy-handed.

Yet another investor spoke against the rental ordinance.  He said it was draconian.  There are provisions for jail time for infractions.  He feels this ordinance is a turn-off to investors.

A previous Pottstown landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.   It gives Code Enforcement too many powers and Pottstown doesn’t enforce the code already on the books so why are we adding more?

Another speaker was against the proposed rental ordinance, especially the security deposit language (he wants that deleted).  It’s open season on landlords.  The ordinance is heavy-handed and favors owner occupant vs. investors.

Another Pottstown landlord requested common language be used.

Katy Jackson (Code Blue & CPR) spoke about a property at 117 Washington St.  The police have been there 10 times since January!  Three police visits occurred between 9/10 & 9/11 (fight).  The renters are dangerous and have weapons.  The neighborhood needs stabilized.  She again called for a Task Force to be created to handle this problem.  Katy stated that Code Blue & CPR want the good landlords to stay in Pottstown!  She also spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project stating that Pottstown already has enough of this type of housing and adding more will create a stigma.  We can do better!

A North Charlotte Street resident complained to council about illegal activity (drug use, loitering and a shooting) in her neighborhood.  The police are called but if they don’t see it, they can’t write up a report.  Between January and June of this year she called the Pottstown Police Dept. 20 times.  The problem is a rental unit and the tenants.

A resident spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

The Rector of Christ Episcopal Church spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

A neighbor of the woman on N. Charlotte Street said he wishes he could move.  Ever since the shooting, right in front of his house, he feels unsafe and is very worried about his children.  He won’t allow them to be downstairs and they avoid windows.  They were home the night of the shooting, which occurred right in front of their living room window.  He stated he now owns a gun.  He has gotten into altercations with the rental tenants.  He stated no police came after the shooting was called in.  He said it was caught on surveillance tape.

Whew!  That was a LOT of speakers!

Mayor’s report – Puppies and sunshine everywhere.  All is well.

Manager’s report – Construction has begun on the Norfolk Southern bulk transfer station on South Keim St.  We can expect the railroad crossing to be upgraded as the result of construction (Hallelujah!).

There will be a store front wiindow decorating contest downtown for Christmas.

There is a cooperative effort between PSD and the borough to rehabilitate 22 E. Second Street, using PSD students.

There is a group that uses the Schuylkill River to promote tourism and marketing for towns in our area.  Jason attended their meeting.

As a result of the First Suburbs initiative Pottstown, Norristown and Coatesville are talking about Section 8 housing issues such as vouchers and inspections with HUD.

If all goes well in November they can advertise for the new PAID Director position.  That won’t come SOON ENOUGH IMHO!

Due to declining attendance, Jason is looking to have one last joint Ward meeting on November 10th at the First Church of the Brethren on York St.

On October 20th, Norristown and Pottstown will have a joint council meeting here in Pottstown to discuss common issues.

Jason is trying to organize a meeting between Council and PDIDA to work with existing business owner’s downtown.

It’s budget time.  One item Jason mentioned was that for years 3, 4, & 5 it was hoped that Rickett’s would have become self-sustaining. Until he speaks with Olivet about the borough’s contribution for Rickett’s, that is a gray area for the budget.  Money was not budgeted for those years hoping Rickett’s would not need assistance from the borough.

The Pottstown Authority wants a review of the water fund budget.  They want costs moved into the general fund.  This will be discussed further at Finance.

Motion to adopt the new rental ordinance passed unanimously.

The low-income riverfront senior housing project passed unanimously.  The Lincoln underwear factory property, where the riverfront low-income senior housing will be built, was appraised at $470,000.  The two lots are 1 ½ acres.  Welcome to Pottsamucil.

The motion to authorize the joint venture between PSD and the borough passed unanimously (22 E. Second St. rehabilitation by PSD students).

The motion to authorize the submission of the Pottstown Skyline Lighting Project to the Montco Community Revitalization Board was approved and the project was made the number 1 priority as part of the vote.  (Think boathouse row downtown).

Motion to approve the submission of an EPA grant for Brownfield cleanup at Bethlehem Steel aka the Pottstown Industrial Complex was approved.

Council labored over the Mrs. Smith’s site again regarding the last mustard colored building (Foil Company) and what to do with it.  The options are: do nothing and keep the $85k, paint and keep $45k or do the mural and keep $45k.  They chose Option 2, paint and keep $45k.  $85k is in escrow from the developer for esthetics regarding this building.  Nobody likes the color much.

The bills were paid and the meeting was adjourned.

Editor’s note: Councilor Kirkland (Ward 7) felt the need to give a diatribe regarding opposition to the low-income riverfront senior housing.  Using a move from Tom Hylton’s playbook, Mr. Kirkland berated those opposed to this project as spreading misinformation and not caring about Pottstown.  Mr. Kirkland, have you been paying attention to people who use this methodology?  They end up like the Shade Tree Commission.  A word to the wise is hopefully sufficient.

Take Back Our Town Meeting Held At Pottstown Diner Thursday Evening

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County
Image via Wikipedia

A crowd of approximately 50 people attended a meeting with Pottstown attorney Adam Sager Thursday evening at the Pottstown Diner to learn what regular citizens can do to clean up Pottstown and take back our community.

Pottstown Borough Council President Steve Toroney, Councilor Jody Rhoads (6) and Councilor Dan Weand (5) were also in attendance.  I don’t recall seeing the councilors for Wards 1 & 2 (the core neighborhood). Code Blue (The Pulse) had a strong turn out along with representatives from CPR (Citizen’s For Pottstown Revitalization), bloggers Mo Gallant (Pottstown’s Blog) and Sue Repko (Positively Pottstown), and Brandie Kessler from the Pottstown Mercury.

Before Attorney Sager made his presentation, a Pottstown landlord described why he became a landlord in Pottstown 12 years ago.  He wanted to make a difference and offer moderately priced housing (less than $600 a month rent).  Now he is struggling under the weight of water/sewer/trash bills and other increased utility and service costs.  He can’t afford it!

This gentleman rehabilitated 3 crack houses into nice apartment buildings.  He said he feels the borough is his enemy.  He also stated he can get $200 – $250 more a month if he rents to Section 8 recipients.

We then listened to a presentation from Attorney Sager about a plan of attack being used in many cities across the nation. Filling civil lawsuits against offending property owners for code and nuisance violations can have the desired outcome of taking the bad property, getting rid of the slumlord and the criminal element tenants and replacing them with decent people.  We want to attract and retain good tenants while getting rid of the bad ones.

Attorney Sager said we should take a map of Pottstown and put pins in the map to pinpoint the problem areas and find a pattern.

Attorney Sager also discussed the possibility of taking property through eminent domain by the borough as another means of ridding Pottstown of undesirables.

A spirited discussion followed with many people asking questions like “Can we afford to pay the legal fees to sue people?” “Why isn’t the borough doing more?” and other similar questions.  Residents and property owners in attendance were frustrated and in pain over the recent flurry of gun activity in the “core neighborhood”.  Code Blue member Amy Francis said she no longer feels safe in her home.  A property owner from Lower Pottsgrove said he just lost two good tenants because of the recent rash of shootings.

President Toroney answered questions about what steps the borough is taking to deal with slumlords such as water shut off on delinquent properties, the sheriff sale of properties, Portnoff’s more aggressive collection efforts etc… His answers were not always met with enthusiasm. The discussion became quite heated at times due to the high anxiety level of residents in attendance.

Despite varied opinions and temperaments, a good first step was taken.  It was suggested that a Task Force be formed to tackle this escalating problem. Code Blue also mentioned they are developing a Community Land Trust that will help with this process along with the new rental ordinance the borough has developed.

IMHO it will take a multi-faceted approach to fix this problem.

Philadelphia Housing Concerns, Landlord Violations And Creation Of A Land Bank

Temple University logo (no text, "T"...

Image via Wikipedia

 

This should sound familiar to Pottstown residents.  Our big city neighbor to the SE is grappling with many of the same issues that Pottstown is facing: landlords, vacant and blighted properties and gentrification of neighborhoods 

There was a Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods Conference at Temple University yesterday attended by about 300 people and some big investors. 

Subjects like illegal rentals, blighted lots and private citizens having the ability to buy property from the Redevelopment Authority versus that land being sold to developers were discussed.  Another hot topic was creation of a Land Bank so developers can more easily purchase vacant lots. 

The conversation was spirited by all accounts as city residents expressed their frustrations on these subjects.