Melissa and Evan Ramos live in the left twin, in fear of the right.
Melissa's mom, Mary Conrad, grew up in the half her daughter now owns, and has spent the last three years trying to determine whether, when, and how the city will act to keep one decaying property from claiming more victims on the block.
"I was told it will take 15 to 20 years to get that house to sheriff's sale," Conrad grumbles, "because the taxes would have to be $15,000 or $20,000 in arrears."
Death and taxes
The terrible twin was last occupied by Joseph Parisi, an uncle of Conrad's long estranged from her side of the family. He was so reclusive neighbors rarely saw him.
One day in the spring of 2008, Melissa Ramos noticed the garage door ajar and thought Parisi, 83, had been robbed, so she called 911. Police found a body that had been decomposing for months. The mess took a hazmat crew a week to clean.
"He was a hoarder with trash from floor to ceiling," says Deputy Managing Director Tom Conway. The detox cost $9,000, the first of many debts the property accrued.
Taxes once paid faithfully went ignored. Parisi's three deceased siblings have children nearby, but no one claimed interest or relinquished responsibility in the twin.
"I don't want the hassle, and I don't have the money," admits Joe Parisi, son of the late Frank Parisi. Messages for other relatives went unreturned.
Innocents seeking relief
Property abandonment can cost innocents dearly. Melissa Ramos worked for a bank, but in 2009 she had no luck refinancing her own home.
"The appraiser took pictures of his house and noted that the value of our house had been negatively affected," says Ramos, now a math teacher at Feltonville Arts and Sciences Middle School.
Around the corner, Elizabeth Mercado's livelihood has been threatened by encroaching blight.
"My tenants have had mice and rats from his property," she tells me. The hedge is so high "it blocks the light, so they can't grow grass."
In the summer of 2008, Mercado wrote one heir, offering to buy the twin. "I never heard anything," she laments. "I'm still interested, but so much time has passed. It would take a lot more money to fix."
Amid the despair, Fran Burns, commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections, offers encouragement. Disposing of properties with deceased owners is difficult, she says, but that 15-to-20-year quote Conrad received is unrealistically depressing.
The Parisi house, Burns says, is exactly the kind of property inspectors are targeting in an aggressive new program aimed at keeping nuisance properties and vacancies from dragging down otherwise thriving areas. L&I now issues fines of up to $300 a day for every missing door or window, whether a house is occupied or not.
"We're getting owners' attention immediately," Burns says. After two unheeded warnings, "we're taking you to court."
Last week (by coincidence or because of my calls?), the city made a move on the Parisi place. A crew from the Community Life Improvement Program trimmed the weeds for the first time all year.
More important, the Law Department put 7001 Oxford Ave. in foreclosure. A tax sale could take place as soon as this fall.
Would-be buyers need at least $18,000 to cover back taxes and cleanup fees on a shell with swell neighbors and potential. To see what could be, just look next door.
Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, email@example.com, or philly.com/kinney. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq