Point Breeze struggles with numerous vacant properties
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a resolution in Council that would begin the process of developing 10 vacant lots in Point Breeze, some of which were part of a controversial land grab by the city in 2012. Johnson's office presented the move, which would have the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority transfer the land to affordable housing developer Innova Redevelopment LLC, as part of a larger land-use strategy that would also include selling off other city owned land in the fast-changing Point Breeze neighborhood.
The 10 lots included in the resolution would developed into "affordable" single-family housing as part of a scattered site development called "Latona Green." The first of the homes, which are largely clustered around 17th and Manton Street, will break ground in April or May. The three- to four-bedroom homes will sell for between $125,000 and $170,000, although the vast majority of the units will be priced around $160,000.
Johnson's office also said that it had recently sent out an RFP for the development of other city owned lots in Point Breeze, a neighborhood that is home to nearly 300 publicly owned vacant properties. The RFP seeks private developers who would receive a set of city-owned properties on the 1300 block of South Bouvier Street at a reduced price in exchange for an agreement to include a certain number of affordable housing units in any development.
"We're recognizing that there's dwindling subsidy money [for affordable housing]," said Stephen Cobb, Johnson's legislative director. "We're seeing how we can package properties and use the RFP process to competitively bid them out to developers who want to do sustainable development projects."
Ori Feibush, a developer who will be challenging the councilman in next year's 2nd District council race, fired off a political warning shot this week, promising to raise millions to unseat Johnson. Feibush has focused on painting Johnson as anti-development in the past, and the Councilman may be eager to present more aggressive land-use strategies for his district, which struggles to deal with many poorly maintained vacant properties.
His office was unsure if this latest RFP would be the first example of the city using discounted land as a strategy to spur private development while simultaneously mandating the construction of affordable housing, but suggested it could be.
"We don't want to say it is the first, only to find out it's been done before," said Thomas Mosher, Johnson's communications director. "But, as far as we know this is a new idea to us, and something we really think...is an idea worth looking in to."
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