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SIP: Feds clear up a rule that could break the program

4/21/2015 | Real Estate Blog

The city of Philadelphia is committed to neighborhood economic development in a number of ways. For the most part, though, neighborhoods have to take care of themselves before the city will lend a hand. Even then, assistance often comes in the form of funding and training instead of direct services. Employees of the Department of Commerce will not, for the most part, be out knocking on doors to convince community organizations to apply for grant money, nor will they manage the grant money once it is secured.

Still, the city realizes that the person who does knock on doors and manage grant money needs a certain amount of training and guidance in the nuances of how to help the neighborhood’s commercial corridor. To fill the gap, the department instituted the Corridor Management Program. A community organization hires the person, and the city trains him or her and then continues to use that person as a liaison with the community’s commercial corridor.

We have talked a lot about revitalizing neighborhoods and Philadelphia’s continuing struggle to make the city a nicer place to live and to do business. Note that many of the posts are about the plans and actions of community-based organizations. In our recent post about Neighborhood Conservation Overlays, for example, we mentioned that only a community organization can request an NCO. Philadelphia is a kind of hands-off city, almost to the point of offering a handout rather than a hand up.

One of the programs, a program that has delivered a good deal of bang for the buck, is the Storefront Improvement Program. SIP reimburses business owners for small improvements to their storefronts. There is a $15,000 cap, but a property owner can do a lot with that kind of money: Painting, repairs to windows and facades, new signage and so on can transform a shaggy dog into a well-groomed French poodle without a huge investment of money or time.

SIP money does not come from the city, though. It comes from the federal government. That means that federal regulations apply. And that means that SIP must follow the guidelines laid out by the federal government in the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 (and amended in 2009).

All of this leads us to ask a question: Is it federal regulations in general or just the Davis-Bacon regulations that mess up successful community improvement programs?

We’ll continue this in our next post.

Source: Philadelphia Generosity, “How Federal Guidelines are Stunting Storefront Improvement Program (SIP),” Alex Vuocolo, April 13, 2015