2 more buildings collapse in North Philly

Posted: March 20, 2014

PHILADELPHIA continues to crumble.

Firefighters over the weekend responded to two building collapses in North Philadelphia that displaced seven residents and left neighbors on a dilapidated block of Cleveland Street begging for help from the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

At least eight buildings have unexpectedly collapsed in the last month.

"They put a sign on there saying it needs repairs. It needs to be taken down. You can look straight in from outside and see the sky!" said Danny Todd, who lives next door to a home that partially collapsed Saturday morning. "Look at this, man: We're surrounded by vacant houses. This one's got a tree growing out of it."

Todd is concerned that the disintegrating building - owned by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. - could threaten the structural integrity of his own home, which is developing large cracks.

"They have money for LOVE Park, but they can't knock this house down?" Todd asked, referring to the city's $30 million sale of the parking garage beneath the park and a proposal to use $16 million in taxpayer dollars to refurbish the park.

Less than 24 hours later, another building collapsed on 6th Street near Cumberland, about a mile away. The side of the house is now mostly missing, with clothes and other personal belongings hanging out.

The Red Cross is providing food, clothing and transportation to four displaced families. One resident is also temporarily staying at the Red Cross House.

L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson said the 6th Street building has been declared imminently dangerous as a result of the collapse. That makes it a candidate for city-funded demolition if the owner refuses to demolish or repair the property. But nearly 600 properties are on that list. With a demolition budget of only $6 million, L&I doesn't have the resources to demolish them all.

"We triage and prioritize demolitions so that the buildings that pose the greatest danger to public safety are demolished first," Swanson said.

Back on Cleveland Street near York, Swanson said the PHDC property adjoining Todd's home had been deemed unsafe in September 2012, but L&I does not pursue court action for properties owned by city agencies.

"We are in the process of assessing the damage and determining what the next steps are," said Paul Chrystie, a PHDC spokesman.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, chairwoman of City Council's L&I Committee, said that simply giving L&I more money to raze dangerous buildings isn't the solution. She said the city needs to find ways to hold owners accountable and prevent properties from falling apart.

"How do we change the paradigm in this city, where people just walk away from properties?" Sanchez said.

She said she would like L&I's new Project eCLIPSE data system to be operable earlier than the end of 2015. She said the agency's current system makes it difficult to determine the severity of the problem. L&I has told the Daily News that it cannot say how many buildings have collapsed in recent years.

"Until we get a real sense of what the problem is, any solutions that we do are not going to be data-driven," Sanchez said.

Mary Gainer, who lives on Cleveland Street next to a partially collapsed house, said the city needs to act soon. Yesterday, the front wall for the adjoining house, which is on L&I's list of imminently dangerous buildings, was buckling near the roof and leaning toward the street, which is used for children's block parties in the summer.

" 'It's on the list,' that's all we ever hear," said Gainer, who has lived there 41 years. "It's just a matter of time before it collapses."

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