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How much longer can Philly dodge its vacant property problem?

3/12/2015 | Construction Blog, Real Estate Blog

Philadelphia may be shedding its nickname to become, instead, the City of Brotherly Irony. In 2014, the city spent time and money trying to oust artist James Dupree from his property, a building he had renovated into a landmark. Critics pointed out that the city was not wanting for vacant or abandoned property — why concentrate on one building that has been brought back from the dead?

In 2013, of course, the city spent time and money investigating the circumstances that led to the Market Street collapse, the demolition accident that claimed six lives. The death toll rose a few days later: The city inspector who had signed off on the project two weeks before the accident committed suicide. We wrote about the collapse and the issues with the Department of Licenses and Inspections many times that summer — our July 17, 2013, post, building collapse, city focuses on construction rules is just one example.

While the developer was actively taking the Market Street building down, dozens of vacant properties were falling down on their own. As the city scrutinized Market Street, L&I was not inspecting or keeping track of more than 1,000 vacant buildings in various states of decay.

A couple of months ago, the Office of the Controller for the city of Philadelphia issued a report taking L&I to task over its neglect of privately owned vacant properties across the city. Mayor Michael Nutter responded to that report with a budget proposal with enough money for L&I to hire 43 new inspectors — laudable, but less than half the number recommended by the controller’s office.

Those 43 new hires will not quite double the existing cohort of inspectors, but they will help to tackle the city’s vacant property problem. In the meantime, it is up to the current staff to address safety hazards and violations in the 1,215 properties identified by the controller. They will likely start with the 101 properties considered Unsafe, Imminently Dangerous, or Hazardous.

We’ll continue this in our next post.

Sources:, “Philadelphia budget adds more inspectors to oversee construction and demolition,” Tom MacDonald, March 6, 2015

Office of the City Controller, “Vacant Properties Creating Neighborhood Nuisances,” January 2015