The Philadelphia Housing Authority has allocated an additional $3.4 million to compensate property owners whose homes, businesses, and vacant lots were seized two years ago as part of a plan to redevelop the battered Sharswood neighborhood in North Philadelphia.
The money, deposited Friday, brings to $7.2 million the amount set aside to pay for the nearly 650 properties. Now it's up to the property owners, or their estates, to claim the money — and city officials believe many may never attempt to do so.
Of the 800 privately owned condemned properties in the affected neighborhood, only 10 percent have received a payment from the authority, the Inquirer and Daily News reported last week. Dozens of others are in the middle of a lengthy appeals process.
Many of the rest have outstanding tax bills and owe other municipal fees that together might be more than their houses are worth. "About 80 percent of property owners that were on the condemnation list owe the city approximately $9 million," said Nichole Tillman, spokeswoman for the authority.
Take, for example, 2323 Harlan St. The authority deposited $1,800 as just compensation for the 480-square-foot vacant lot — for comparison, the city assessed it at $2,300. But city tax records show that the previous property owner owes the city $5,905 in delinquent taxes and fees.
That delinquency would have to be paid before the former owner could get the compensation.
In all, housing officials condemned 1,300 properties to make way for a massive redevelopment of the Sharswood neighborhood and Blumberg housing project. The $675 million plan was pitched as a way to preserve and increase affordable housing in a neighborhood that had severe blight yet was starting to see increased gentrification. The authority is also building its new $45 million headquarters in the neighborhood. In addition to the privately owned properties, 500 were publicly owned.
In many cases, the owners are long gone and what used to be someone's home is now a plot of grass, accumulating liens.
Before PHA took ownership of 1324 N. 22nd St., the property had been owned by the same family since 1925. William Lipshutz purchased the property, then died in 1940 and his heirs sold the house in 1966 to the most recent owners, Louis and Zelma Lipshutz, city records show.
All three people had a second listed address of 315 N. Second St., where the redevelopment authority sent its condemnation notice. That address, however, does not exist in the city's current property records — what perhaps might have been a home a long time ago is now green space off the Vine Street Expressway.
As for the property that was condemned, next-door neighbors Keenan and Bonnie Fischer said that when they purchased and moved into their three-story rowhouse in 2005, the Lipshutz property was already a grassy lot.
The authority, through independent appraisers, determined that the lot is worth $7,400 and deposited that amount into court Friday.
But collecting that money might be a challenge: According to a city spokesman, no property taxes have been paid for the lot since 1978. The outstanding balance: $8,829 — or about $1,400 more than the city has agreed to pay for it.