It should be simple. It isn't.
L&I can cite slumlords for housing-code violations. The court can slap them with fines. If slumlords don't fix the homes, L&I can board them up, at a cost of $850, but a boarded-up house attracts squatters and drug dealers.
L&I can also demolish ramshackle houses deemed dangerous. But the procedure is costly - $17,000 a house on average - and time consuming.
Beyond that, there's not much more L&I can do, said Commissioner Fran Burns.
The Redevelopment Authority could seize the city's roughly 40,000 vacant or abandoned properties through eminent domain, but the authority would have to pay the owner and have a clear plan for the property.
The city Law Department can obtain tax-delinquent properties through the courts and take the homes to sheriff's sale.
But there's little incentive to do so, said state Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia.
"There's no incentive for the city from a financial point of view to take these properties on because they wait until they are absolutely worthless," Taylor said. "The city just doesn't move on them."
But Taylor, who represents Port Richmond, believes he has a solution.
He's sponsored a bill under which local governments could establish a land bank to acquire, manage and develop abandoned or blighted properties. The land bank, not outside investors, would have first dibs on any homes up for sheriff's sale.
The city Law Department, working with the Redevelopment Authority and the land bank, would move more quickly to foreclose on tax-delinquent properties, said RDA Executive Director Terry Gillen.
That wouldn't address the problem of homes in violation of the city's safety and health codes, if they were not tax delinquent, but it would be a partial solution.
The land bank, governed by a board of community members, would give dilapidated homes with little or no value to developers for free. In exchange, developers would pledge to rehab the homes and sell them to single families. The city would benefit financially once people live in the homes and pay property taxes. The community would benefit once eyesores were rehabbed.
The land bank would sell - and hopefully profit from - properties that have value.
The city would determine how to fund the land bank, which Taylor concedes would be costly at the onset.
"I frankly don't have all the answers," Taylor said. But, he added, the city can't afford to do nothing.
Taylor said he expects the Land Banks Authorities Act to pass sometime next year.