In the two years since Mayor Nutter took over as chairman of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, he and the rest of the board have overseen a turnaround of the agency.
The RDA is now managing two major federal stimulus programs, adding up to $64 million. These funds, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are allowing the authority to create jobs by renovating houses that underwent foreclosure during the financial meltdown.
The RDA is ahead of schedule on this project and recently requested additional stimulus funds from the state. HUD considers the authority's practices to be among the nation's best. And we are especially proud of our work with the Enterprise Center to increase minority contractors' participation in the program.
Last year, the RDA also worked with the city's Office of Housing and Community Development to create a successful foreclosure prevention program. In partnership with the Court of Common Pleas, the program has allowed thousands of Philadelphians to stay in their homes.
In addition, the RDA has begun to fundamentally change the way it handles and develops real estate. The authority owns 3,000 vacant parcels, but in the year before the mayor took office, it disposed of fewer than 100 in the midst of a strong real estate market. We have taken the following steps to improve our interaction with the market and encourage more land sales:
We have worked with real estate brokers to figure out how they can sell RDA properties. Last year, a pilot of this program sold 11 parcels and raised $400,000.
We have posted a complete list of our parcels online, generating interest from dozens of prospective buyers.
We have begun working with the Urban Land Institute to develop solid market-based data for making development decisions.
And, in 2008, we told dozens of developers who had been sitting on RDA parcels for years that they must develop them or return them to the agency. This was the first time the authority had enforced the requirement that lots be developed within a given period.
Overall, this last strategy has been a huge success. The historic Bouvier building in Old City, for example, had been listed as an endangered property. But when the RDA threatened the owner with default, the deed was returned. The agency recently resold it for $300,000, and it is now being lovingly rehabilitated by its new owner.
These changes to the way the RDA does business have some worried that the authority is going to discourage development. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Take for another example the much-discussed site at 1701 Vine St., which was purchased from the RDA in 1987 and has sat undeveloped ever since. The property's owner, Stephen Klein, let it sit idle even during the Center City real estate boom, from 2000 to 2007, and even as he developed properties in other parts of the country.
In 2008, when the Nutter administration told developers that it would be enforcing all outstanding defaulted agreements with the RDA, more than 52 developers finally began or completed construction on their parcels or gave them back to the authority. Only then did Klein finally enter into a development partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The RDA could have taken its legal claim against Klein to court, where our attorneys believe we likely would have prevailed. However, because litigation would take several years, we decided instead to try to reach a compromise with Klein and the Mormon Church that would allow construction to begin sooner. We asked Klein to split a portion of the sale proceeds with the city, and our talks with him are continuing.
It's important to put these events in context. The RDA has scrupulously applied the same legal standards to all developers, and we have worked hard to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly. The old days of deals based on political connections are over.
The Inquirer Editorial Board recently castigated various people involved in the Family Court building debacle, calling on everyone to follow a clear set of rules. We hope the board will apply the same commandment here, and we, too, hope that everyone can follow the same set of rules.