Deadly fire sparks concern about other vacant sites in Phila.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Questions are being raised about Philadelphia's response to complaints residents say they have made to the city about a number of properties that appear to be a danger to the public.

"There's a problem with the system," Pastor Dan Roth told Action News.

Roth is one of a number of people who last October had complained that the former Buck Hosiery factory building was unsealed and attracting squatters. He says initially the city through its 311 website dismissed his complaint entirely.

"The case was closed and it was marked that the complaint was unfounded. I was not happy about it," said Roth, of the Summerfield United Methodist Church.

After others complained in early November, L and I finally moved on the property owners, slapping them with citation after citation that went unanswered. The matter was due to go to court in May.

But then came the deadly inferno that claimed the lives of two firefighters, injuring others and destroying a number of homes. In the aftermath, what residents are hearing from city officials does not sit well.

"In the end, what was needed here was an end of the abstract discussion and actually some solution," said Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighborhood Association.

"The spin coming from the city, the denial-a-thon is just bunk, absolute bunk, I don't believe any of it," said Chris Sawyer of East Kensington.

Sawyer had also complained about the factory as did others who today gave us a tour of other potentially dangerous buildings.

Sawyer says he has also complained about a 5-story building in the 2300 block of North Front Street. It has a number broken windows, and a large wooden plank that appears on the verge of falling to the sidewalk down below.

"The next little windstorm comes around and you get off the "el" and you're walking toward your home, and you could be the unlucky winner," said Sawyer.

On Tuesday, the city began to look at other vacant buildings in the area and began citing the owners with pink notices, including one on a dilapidated row home in the 2300 block of Jasper.

"We have their attention during this time period," said Carpineta. "I mean, people had to lose their life to accomplish that. That's not a good moment, and this is really not a victory. But what we're sure of is, this is going to happen again."

Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday that since the city stepped up its efforts last year targeting property owners with code violations, many owners have fixed vacant properties and paid off fines.

But he concedes that more needs to be done.

If there is a vacant property in your neighborhood causing concern, call Philadelphia's hotline at 311 to report it to L and I.

A law signed last year requires owners to seal windows and entrances, or face fines.

If you are worried about so-called "nuisance properties," such as a drug house, contact the District Attorney's task force at (215) 686-5858.

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