NBC10 Investigators Expose Crumbling, Leaning PHA Buildings

Crumbling, leaning, unsealed buildings throughout Philadelphia are owned by a public agency charged with providing safe and affordable housing. 

An NBC10 investigation reveals the Philadelphia Public Housing Authority owns more unsafe and imminently dangerous property than any other landlord. A review of Philadelphia building inspection records shows the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) owns 99 ‘unsafe’ buildings and six ‘imminently dangerous structures.

“Imminently dangerous is the top of the list,” Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz said. “It’s something they don’t even know what’s holding up the building anymore.  A strong wind could blow it down.” 

Last year, Butkovitz pushed the city to better document the dangerous and unsafe property so the owners could be held accountable. 

The building records reviewed by the NBC 10 Investigators show a history of violations by PHA properties.

In 2012, 2446 West Oxford Street was cited for being ‘vacant and unsealed.’

1621 North 6th street was cited for “fire damage in 2011. 

Last year, 644 North 38th Street was cited for its “deteriorated roof.”

As of July 2016, all three properties remained in the same condition.

“They are the responsibility of the owner,” Licenses and Inspections communications director Karen Guss said. “In this case the owner is PHA.”

Letters from L&I show the city agency repeatedly has asked the public housing authority to secure or demolish it’s properties.

In March one letter warned 2408 West Oxford street was in “imminent danger of collapse.”  The letter says, “you must repair of demolish” it.

The PHA was notified by the Department of Licenses and Inspections in March that this home was in imminent danger of collapse and must be repaired or demolished. As of late August, the building was still there in the same condition.

In June city building inspectors wrote 649 North 44th street was “imminently dangerous.”

When asked about plans for PHA’s unsafe and imminently dangerous property PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah downplayed the scope of the problem.  He noted PHA owns just 105 of the nearly 5000 unsafe and imminently dangerous properties in the city.

“It is a big deal and if you’ve taken the time to look at what I’ve done in the two years since I’ve been here, this would have been a great story five years ago when we weren’t doing anything,” Jeremiah said. 

The Philadelphia Housing Authority does have a documented strategy to unload or fix its unsafe and dangerous property. PHA claims the plan has stabilized 21 of its 99 unsafe buildings since Jeremiah took over.

“We’ve rehabbed hundreds of properties over the last year,” he said. “We’ve renovated over a thousand properties.  To do all of that work requires resources that are ever shrinking.”

Jeremiah said since he’s been in charge, PHA has auctioned more than 800 properties.

Since the NBC 10 Investigators began asking about plans for PHA’s unsafe and dangerous property L&I has made plans to demolish the most dangerous.  L&I has schedule the demolitions before the end of August. It costs an average of $17,000 to demolish an imminently dangerous property according to L&I.  The city agency said it will send the bill to PHA.

“All of those particular properties are moving toward being demolished in the relatively near future,” L&I communications director Karen Guss said.

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