Two blighted homes, one hardworking office

A warning posted by the SPCA on the door of 3118 Miller St. The blighted property was being occupied by squatters who had animals. State Rep. John Taylor’s office helped to get the people and animals out. The home now awaits cleaning and sealing, and eventual sale. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Ed. note: This story is part of Star’s ongoing “The Blight Fight” series.

In the heart of Port Richmond exists a property that is said to exemplify the Murphy’s Law of Philadelphia blight — 3118 Miller St.

“It is the epitome of everything that could possibly be wrong or go wrong in a vacant property,” said Marc Collazzo, manager of State Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th dist.) Bridesburg District Office, 4725 Richmond St.

And while Taylor’s office has made great strides to get squatters, including children, as well as animals out of the property, the house is yet to be cleaned and sealed. Until then, it’s nothing but an eye — and nose — sore, open to more unscrupulous activity.

This is no middle-of-nowhere shack, either. Neighbors live on either side of 3118 Miller St, a small block not far from Campbell Square. Those neighbors, in fact, brought the property to the attention of Taylor’s office, which has been working hard in recent years to tackle blight like this.

“[The property] is privately owned, it was vacant, but squatters were living there,” Collazzo said earlier this month. “It had roaches beyond roaches, fecal matter throughout, an odor that was just indescribable. No one wants to live next to that.”

To deal with such a mess, there are several hurdles to jump.

Every property owner, good bad or indifferent, has due process rights — there just isn’t much the city’s office of Licenses & Inspection can do besides writing a violation if they don’t have access to the home. Only the property owner can press charges on illegal occupants.

Collazzo and Taylor’s office couldn’t track down the owner of the property — it turned out that Bank of America had purchased it, though the deed hadn’t yet been changed.

All the while, neighbors had made calls about hearing animal cries from within the house.

Then, it turned out the squatters were a family with small children.

“Once I knew that there was a family there with children, I notified the DHS [Department of Human Services] Commissioner [Anne Marie] Ambrose, who promptly responded,” Collazzo said. “When DHS came and announced its presence, the family left.”

Next, Taylor’s office had to deal with the animals — eventually, SPCA officers removed two dogs and a cat from the premises.

Currently, while the home is empty of people and animals, Collazzo said Bank of America has to go through an emergency hearing to obtain an order to do the cleaning and sealing.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Collazzo said. “The 24th District officers have to wear special gear if they go in there, that’s how bad it is.”

As of press time, the house had still not been cleaned and sealed.

Collazzo said that while that’s disappointing, he’s glad the office was able to work as hard as it did to get to this point. There’s much to be done in terms of dealing with such blight, though.

“The one thing that I would like to see, with all our legislation that we pass, is that there has to be better procedures in place for expeditious resolution to nightmares like these,” he said.

Once it’s cleaned and sealed, the 3118 Miller St. property will be sold.

Another Port Richmond property, 3003 Aramingo Ave., was creating similar problems. That property is owned by Wells Fargo bank.

Pat Healey, chairman of the 24th Police District Advisory Council, called Taylor’s office on behalf of a neighbor living near that property.

Squatters with minor children and infants were residing there.

“Someone from DHS came out within a day,” Collazzo said. “The children are now staying around the corner with an aunt.”

Since only Wells Fargo can prosecute squatters, a man was still living there until Sept. 27. Now, it must be cleaned, sealed and sold as well.

In both instances, Collazzo said, he was glad to see that the properties were taken care of. With properties like these, developers can directly buy them, if the price is right. That leads to revamped properties on the market, which only benefits the neighborhood.

“On our webpage, there’s a vacant property list. It’s sixty-some pages,” Collazzo said. “I think our office has done a wonderful job in using all the tools we have.”

“It’s still a problem. With every one that we solve, we have three more. But we feel like we’re really making a dent. When you hear people thank you, you really know you’re improving their quality of life.”

Getting the vacant properties cleaned up and sold only benefits the city, he said.

“If we get these sold, back taxes are paid, liens are paid, there’s a new revenue source, people will be paying taxes and utilities — everybody wins.” 

To contact Taylor’s office about a blighted or nuisance property in your neighborhood, visit www.reptaylor.com or call 215–425–0901.