Battling Rowhouse Blight

Longtime block captain Carolyn McClary fears this abandoned house on her West Philadelphia street will eventually take the block under. (Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel / Staff Photographer)

Like the 1400 block of North Conestoga Street in West Philadelphia’s Carroll Park profiled in today's Inquirer, there are blocks throughout the city where frustrated neighbors live near decaying houses that threaten to splinter and buckle; that through their broken windows, overgrown weeds and piles of trash have become monuments to careless neglect.

For neighbors living in the grayness of blight, Frances Burns, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections commissioner, urges them to call 311 to report such nuisances.

Burns says the department's goal "is to try to get the private owner to make right."

After receiving a complaint, L&I will inspect the property, says Burns. If there are code violations, the owner will receive a notice to make the necessary repairs, with 30 days to comply before the property is re-inspected.

If the owner is MIA, and the property is vacant and open, Burns says, L&I will send out a "clean and seal unit," to board up the property.

Burns puts owners in two categories: good owners and bad owners.

"A good owner, we try to get the owner in court to make the necessary repairs," she says. "If we can’t find the owner or get any reliable owner, we continue to inspect the property to see if there’s if there’s further deterioration."

Once an inspector believes a property is on the verge of collapse, the city will tear it down, and bill the owner for the trouble.

Burns admits it’s not a perfect solution.

"The ideal is really how do we get this private owner that’s abandoned the property to do the right thing, to get it rehabbed, so it sustains the community rather than having vacant lots sporadically through," she says. "We’re definitely looking at that."

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