PHA Gets OK From Feds to Sell Nearly 1,800 Vacant Properties
Philadelphia- Real estate developers looking for property in Philadelphia will soon have some new inventory to consider.

The federal government has approved a request by the Philadelphia Housing Authority to sell off nearly 1,800 vacant houses and lots it owns. PHA executive director Carl Greene said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will need about another 60 days to complete its detailed process, and once that's done PHA will list the available properties and begin accepting bids.

"We won't know the level of interest until we begin the bidding process. Most of the interest in these properties will come from private developers, but we also know some nonprofit organizations and individuals may be attracted as well. Anyone can put in a bid," Greene said.

He noted, however, that with the lack of liquidity in the market the demand may not be great. "Considering the number of properties involved, it may take years to dispose of them all," Greene said.

PHA oversees the professional management of about 32,000 occupied affordable housing units in Philadelphia through its public housing developments and Housing Choice Voucher Program. The properties in question are homes and lots PHA is not funded to maintain, so rather than leave them vacant and in disrepair Greene is hopeful other organizations can make good use of them.

"We have rebuilt numerous distressed neighborhoods, and even now we have several developments underway or due to start soon. We anticipate that other developers will use these properties to begin projects that complement PHA's ongoing efforts," he said.

The houses to be sold are scattered throughout the city, but the largest numbers are located in North, West and Southwest Philadelphia. The sale does not affect any of PHA's owned and operated developments.

Like almost all public housing authorities across the nation, PHA saw its operating and capital funding dramatically reduced from 2003 to 2008. The agency has leaned on private investment through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fuel its ongoing construction program, and in January 2007 it had to deeply reduce operating expenses, including a restructuring that included the lay-offs of 350 workers. The sale of these properties is a part of the restructuring.

Nevertheless, the agency still serves 81,000 residents through its public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs. It plans to open two more newly constructed sites this year, Mantua Square in West Philadelphia and Warnock Apartments in North Philadelphia.

In addition, the agency is using $90 million in stimulus money to totally rehab 300 scattered site homes, rebuild the burned Plymouth Hall senior building and make major energy system upgrades at several older developments.

PHA initially received the scattered site properties following the foreclosure crises of the 1960's and 70's as the closing of factories and the movement away from urban areas of major cities left thousands of homes vacant.

"I hope as we cope with this foreclosure crisis that the federal government won't repeat the mistakes it made decades ago. At that time, HUD turned over properties to PHA without the resources to care for them. This time programs have been set up with the intent of making things different."