To repeat the point once again, it’s not crazy for the PRA to have a policy against people trespassing on their property. Ori Feibush was in fact trespassing on this lot, even though he was trespassing to do a good thing – removing 40 tons of neighborhood trash and substantially beautifying the lot.
Where the crazy comes in is that 1) PRA wants Ori to put trash back on the lot, rather than just paying a fine, and 2) he was not able to buy the lot in question after repeated entreaties to the PRA.
The problem is Philadelphia’s political approach to the management of city-owned vacant land. Philadelinquency nails it here:
For all of you who have approached the Redevelopment Authority seeking side yards, I’m sure you can sympathize. Waiting 4 to 5 years and never hearing back about a side yard request is one of the more frustrating aspects about acquiring vacant land in Philadelphia.
Simple fact is: City Council combined with the Mayor’s appointments to the PRA designed it to be this way. While the current PRA might be a bit different than the Johnny Doc-controlled RDA of the past, which was intent on farming NTI demolition contracts out to favorites; the system of dispersing City-controlled land back into the private marketplace has always been a Kafkaesque process.
And of course, it’s a political process–and if the Redevelopment Authority doesn’t care for you, or a City Councilperson orders it, the PRA throws your requests in the garbage. No wonder they can’t recall that OCF Realty has approached them numerous times about the lot at 20th and Annin Street—they never wanted to sell it, so the agency purged all the previous requests to buy the lot. Why keep those documents around if you know you’re not going to do anything with them?
Twitter buddy @norahcjean raised the issue that PRA’s political approach to land sales might be helpful by screening out slumlords, but I’m not sure I buy that’s what they’re doing here, and even so that would be a very costly and ineffective strategy.
The best way to go after slumlords, in my view, would be requiring multi-family buildings to be owned-occupied, and then a combination of a tough tax foreclosure law, strict code enforcement and land value taxation. Going after the stuff slumlords do is a better approach than preventing land parcels from being developed into apartments just in case the owner might turn out to be a shady landlord.