MOVE Neighborhood Awaits New Homes
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Some of the 250 people burned out of their homes in the fatal MOVE confrontation should be moving back within weeks to the neighborhood that for 10 months has served as a glaring reminder of the problems bedeviling Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
The 61 sleek homes going up in west Philadelphia are making a modern, 3 1/2 -block patch in an area of decades-old rowhouses.
The brick rowhouses normally sell for between $20,000 and $30,000. The 2 1/ 2 -story brick and cedar townhouses the city is building cost $135,000 each, and real estate brokers, city officials and residents are wondering what they will come to mean for the troubled neighborhood.
″We’re still on standby,″ said Clifford Bond, noting the uncertainty over taxes he and other displaced residents will face when they return.
The area was destroyed last May 13 when police dropped a bomb on the headquarters of the radical group, setting off a conflagration that also killed 11 people in the fortified home.
Goode immediately pledged to have the houses rebuilt by Christmas. And while city officials expect some people to begin moving back by the end of March, they now steer clear of a target date for completion of all 61 homes.
The project’s general contractor, G&V Construction Co., of Norfolk, Va., has said much of the work could be done by April 15. Seven homes are finished and 15 more should be done before April, said city Housing Office spokeswoman Barbara Farley.
The reconstruction itself has been plagued by residents’ complaints about the homes’ design, demands for a 10-year warranty and a dispute over cost overruns that led to the firing last month of Ernest Edwards as the project’s developer.
Displaced homeowners will get title to the homes free and clear, except for liens and mortgages that existed on their previous property, said city Housing Director Julia O. Robinson. Eighteen families were tenants, and if they decide to continue to rent they would be assured of the previous rents until Nov. 30 under a plan the city has proposed.
Residents will be allowed to sell their new houses for what they can get, and real estate spokesmen say the demand in the area is good.
″The supply is extremely limited. It always has been. It’s even worse now,″ said Reginald Downs. ″A lot of people are holding onto their homes anticipating the new homes will increase their market value.
″People are trying to get in for that same reason. They were small, starter-size homes. That’s what people were looking for. I could sell around 30 of ‘em if I had ’em right now.″
At least one resident, Earl Watkins, figures he and his wife, Pearl, will sell and put the money toward another house. He said he hopes to get $45,000 for the house, which will replace his home of 20 years on Osage Avenue, across the street from the building where MOVE members taunted and threatened neighbors and city officials through a loudspeaker.
The bombing followed a police attempt to evict the group. A special investigating commission appointed by Goode accused him of ″grossly negligent″ conduct in the matter, and the mayor, who had pledged last week to seek re-election, now is fighting for his political life.
Eugene Davey, the city’s real property assessment administrator, said residents of the neighborhood generally took care of their property.
Assessments in the area have risen at about 5 percent every two years, compared with 10 percent annually in places such as downtown, he said.
One benefit for the displaced residents will be a three-year tax abatement available to anyone for a newly built home. With the abatement, only the land is taxed for three years before all of the property is taxable.
″We’re all concerned about that,″ said Bond. ″We don’t know (if) after the third year it will go up drastically, especially for those people who are on fixed incomes.″
Anthony Jackson, an attorney for 12 families displaced by the fire, argues that Philadelphia should foot the bill for any tax increases due to higher- valued homes.
″They wouldn’t have had that bill if the city had never burned down the old house,″ he said.
In addition to uncertainty over property taxes, the Internal Revenue Service has not decided how to treat increased value of new homes, or insurance money received but not used, for tax purposes.
″We’ll have to wait until the dust settles,″ IRS spokesman Gene Harris said. ″We don’t know who’s getting what from where or who’s suing who.″
Until such tax questions are clear, Jackson said, ″the only thing they can do is save money.″