Upwards of 40,000 lots and properties sit vacant across the City of Philadelphia. Of these properties, approximately 8,200 are publicly-owned with nearly 4,700 of them available for development. The redevelopment of these vacant properties, presents an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of life in neighborhoods across the City. While Philadelphia remains in the midst of its longest period of economic expansion of the last five decades, it also has a high poverty rate of 26 percent. This juxtaposition plays out in the competing interests around vacant properties and the need to balance economic growth and boosting City revenues with equitable development and ensuring that benefits of growth extend to all City residents.
In recent years, measures to address this issue have coalesced around the operationalization of the Philadelphia Land Bank, which aims to quicken the pace of returning vacant and tax delinquent property to productive use by centralizing ownership of these parcels and streamlining their disposition and redevelopment. During the period from January 1, 2017 through April 30, 2018, the major public land holding agencies (Philadelphia Land Bank, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority) had sold 282 properties, most of which were vacant lots. The City’s Land Disposition Policies provide guidance on the process and eligibility for disposing of different types of assets based on the type of buyer and the category of reuse. Given the differing objectives of various interest groups, the decision- making process around each parcel can turn into a referendum on the merits of affordable housing, open space, or market rate development.
In an effort not only to streamline but also provide a strategic vision to this process, the City of Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development (DPD) seeks to create a framework for the disposition and development of vacant properties. This framework should encompass land use for both public and privately held vacant properties, and will provide a systematic approach to vacant parcel development that balances economic growth with equitable development in a way that benefits Philadelphia as a whole. To support this work, the City will partner with FUSE Corps to host an executive-level Fellow for one year who will work closely with relevant agencies and internal governing bodies to move away from parcel-by-parcel decision-making and towards a comprehensive strategy for addressing vacancies in Philadelphia.
Project Summary & Potential Deliverables
The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first month of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the Fellow and the host agency.
Starting in September 2018, it is proposed the FUSE Fellow will begin his or her work with a real-time evaluation of how vacant lot transactions are currently conducted, and assess major roadblocks in the process as well as what is working and why. This assessment should include a review of existing vacancy plans and strategies across departments and understanding where they are aligned and where there are inconsistencies.
Following an initial assessment, the Fellow will collaborate closely with city officials across departments to develop a framework for the city-wide redevelopment of vacant properties. This framework should include prescriptive guidelines around development based on various location and re-use scenarios. It should also provide economic justification for the recommended set of actions and demonstrate how issues of equity and goals around economic development are incorporated into a cohesive strategy. Finally, the framework should include a set of strategies for implementation as they relate to legislation, resources and stakeholder engagement.
This role is centered on the FUSE Fellow’s ability to develop partnerships and align stakeholders around a shared vision for Philadelphia, and requires that the Fellow be able to effectively articulate and defend a course of action in order to garner a broad base of support across City departments and organizations.
- Assess Current Landscape: Complete a landscape assessment of the existing processes as well as department-specific vacancy strategies and goals. Identify key roadblocks as well as inconsistencies across strategies. Conduct a best practices survey of other jurisdictions who have implemented a comprehensive strategy for addressing vacancy and evaluate the usefulness of those strategies within the Philadelphia context.
- Develop Vacancy Strategy and Framework: Create a comprehensive city-wide strategy for addressing public and privately held vacant properties in close collaboration with relevant internal and external stakeholders. Develop an economic case to support recommendations by quantifying potential benefits of recommended set of actions. Be able to defend chosen course of action.
- Stakeholder Engagement and Alignment: Collaborate closely across city departments and engage with City Council to ensure broad based support for the Framework. Facilitate opportunities for discussions, sharing of ideas and respond to feedback with real-time revisions of the Framework as it is being developed. Maintain open lines of communication with internal and external stakeholders to ensure continued support for the final Framework.
- Implement Pilot Projects: In final phase of Fellowship, pilot a subset of identified strategies to build momentum around the Framework and develop an initial set of metrics and lessons learned.
- City of Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development
- Philadelphia Land Bank
- Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority
- City of Philadelphia Department of Public Property
- City of Philadelphia City Planning Commission
- City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office
- City of Philadelphia Capital Budget Office
- City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation
- City of Philadelphia City Council
- Community Representatives and Stakeholder Groups
- At least 15 years of professional experience in a relevant field, particularly with a strong background in community development, private market development, affordable housing, coalition building, and/or municipal financing.
- Superior critical thinking and analytical skills.
- Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations.
- Ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy.
- Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities.
- Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker.
- Persistent in obtaining information and creatively resourceful in identifying solutions to complex problems.
- Ability to create direction and movement within potentially ambiguous
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations.
- Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity.