Sisters persuade Nutter to move up demolition of derelict houses

Al Robinson pushes a wheelbarrow of plants along West Rockland Street in Germantown. He was part of a May 28 planting day organized by sisters Aine and Emaleigh Doley to improve their block in the face of its neglect.
Al Robinson pushes a wheelbarrow of plants along West Rockland Street in Germantown. He was part of a May 28 planting day organized by sisters Aine and Emaleigh Doley to improve their block in the face of its neglect. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 07, 2011

Every day for the last 20 years, the Doley sisters were taunted by the same neighborhood menace: a pair of abandoned houses on the corner of their Germantown block. No matter how many times they complained to City Hall, the eyesores remained as fixed and immutable as the points on a compass.

That changed Monday.

A backhoe clawed at the remains of the two derelict buildings at Rockland and Greene Streets, sweeping their scorched bricks and rotting timbers into a neat pile. The Department of Licenses and Inspections had been dispatched on the personal order of Mayor Nutter, who read in an Inquirer story about the Doleys' effort to improve West Rockland.

"We're so relieved," said Ainé Doley, 34, who was a teenager when the first of the two was rendered uninhabitable by fire. "The workers told us one of the houses was leaning badly and could have collapsed any day."

Although neighbors have been filing complaints about the houses - one owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the other by a defunct church - for nearly 20 years, it took a campaign by the Doleys to get the city's attention. The Doleys - Ainé and Emaleigh, 27 - organized a series of cleanups this last year, which they chronicled on rocklandstreet.com.

Then, on May 29, an Inquirer story about a blockwide planting day caught Nutter's eye on his way to the gym.

"I said to myself, 'Let me take a detour and see what's going on,' " Nutter recounted.

Ainé Doley took Nutter on a block tour, showing him the derelict houses. He said, "We're going to help your block."

Sure enough, a surveying crew showed up a few days later. On Friday, demolition crews started work.

Nutter said the pair was on a list of buildings to be demolished with federal stimulus money, but he intervened to make them a priority. "When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway," he said.

The Doley sisters met Monday with DePaul Catholic School officials to discuss building a library. In the interim, they plan to install raised beds for a community garden.


Contact staff writer Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or isaffron@phillynews.com.

 

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