Greg Trainor, Executive Director, learned how to deconstruct buildings in 2006 as an AmeriCorps NCCC Corps Member working for several disaster response organizations in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. In 2009, Greg was struck by the idea that later became the Philadelphia Community Corps after reading “A Prayer for the City” by Buzz Bissinger. With 40,000-60,000 abandoned properties costing the Philadelphia upwards of 20 million annually plus 70 million in noncollectable property taxes, this is clearly a city facing a catastrophic disaster.
Why wasn’t anyone approaching the problem in much the same way disaster response organizations did after a single catastrophic event?
In 2011, Philadelphia Community Corps was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation to formalize the Philly Decon program, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods by deconstructing abandoned buildings. By 2014, job training, tax benefits for property owners and the Philly Reclaim retail experience were added to the business model to ensure exponential growth and long term sustainability for Philadelphia Community Corps.
The Philadelphia Community Corps provides career training programs that empower underserved citizens to revitalize blighted neighborhoods by deconstructing vacant buildings and salvaging materials for reuse.
Trainees gain the skills and experiences necessary to succeed in the deconstruction, material salvage, and other building trade industries. Additionally, they receive OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certification and an introductory course based on curriculum from the Building Materials Reuse Association. Ultimately, we aim to connect trainees to employment opportunities.
We are able to divert materials from landfills to promote practical and creative reuse by utilizing deconstruction, which is an environmentally friendly alternative to demolition. The process also creates more jobs and less pollution because buildings are taken apart by hand.
We aim to utilize deconstruction as an engine for economic growth by creating jobs, removing blight, inspiring community driven neighborhood revitalization, and creating a hub of sustainable reuse.
There are 40,000 to 60,000 abandoned properties in Philadelphia, that combined take up the entirety of Center City. The city spends over $20 million each year in maintaining these properties, which also accounts for over $70 million in uncollected property taxes. These properties drive away investment, attract crime, and drag down property values city-wide by an estimated $3.6 billion, but there hasn’t been a solution profitable enough —or large enough in scale— to reverse the abandoned housing blight. Previously, the Department of License & Inspections paid demolition contractors to remove about 1,000 blighted structures a year at an average cost of $13,000 per house. In 2012 alone, Philadelphia paid $9.5 million to demolition contractors.
Although there is a large abandoned property problem, Philadelphia Community Corps views this as an opportunity to implement job training programs that provide skills and experiences that prepare people with barriers for employment. Also, it allows the presentation of sustainable deconstruction solutions that are more environmentally friendly, and to re-imagine blight as a resource for materials. Within every abandoned property there is a mountain of bricks and a forest of lumber capable of reuse.