Unsettled

A citizen journalist digs up more dirt on Germantown Settlement

Hamill Mill II apartments. The Department of Licenses & Inspections ordered the property closed due to hazards including multiple fire safety violations.

G’Towners and Friends of Germantown… I seek your indulgence for the love of Germantown. A friend warned me yesterday to “be careful” when I told her this story…my response was I don’t fear bullies and who will speak this truth if I don’t do it? Please read and ask questions until you GET IT!!

There was a meeting in Lower Germantown last month by tenants who are concerned about the Settlement Properties that Emanuel Freeman has been collecting rent from illegally after Germantown Settlement and Greater Germantown Housing Development Corporation (GGHDC) declared bankruptcy. GGHDC created subsidiary companies (let’s call them “Holding Companies”) to take title when they applied back in the 90s for low income housing tax credits from the state and millions in loans from the Redevelopment Authority (PRA). GGHDC owned all of the shares in the Holding Companies.

We learned last month that just before GGHDC declared bankruptcy in 2009, Freeman and his wife, Emma, transferred all of the GGHDC shares to themselves for…(wait for it!)… ONE DOLLAR….! You got it, $1, or 4 quarters, or 10 dimes, or 20 nickels, or 100 pennies. I SAW THESE CONTRACTS FOR THE FIRST TIME LAST MONTH IN THE FILING IN BANKRUPTCY COURT. Freeman has collected millions in rents because of these $1 contracts.

For the past 9 years, after the bankruptcy, what did the PRA or the Trustee in Bankruptcy or the State of Pennsylvania or anyone in authority do?? NOTHING…until the fall of 2017 when the PRA approved more millions being requested by Freeman in the form of debt forgiveness of over $3 million. But lucky for us, he lost that approval after he could not show financing to pay off the remainder of the debt (another $3 million). If you’re still reading…here’s more.

Plans for redevelopment of the Germantown YWCA building have gone nowhere since the PRA took over in 2011

He came back and back again until three of us succeeded in stopping him (Constance Capp Winters and Allison Weiss and myself). We convinced the PRA that Freeman had caused serious blight, and tenants started to complain loudly. So, now we fast forward.

The PRA refused to believe that Freeman had no legal right to these properties, and yet, we learned that the Trustee knew about the illegal $1 contracts. Did the PRA know? Where have these 2009 contracts been held all of these years with no one doing anything about it? It is against state law for a nonprofit to transfer its assets without the authority of the Orphan’s Court. We are fortunate that after I filed a complaint with the Attorney General last year, he agreed to investigate these transfers.

But now, the Trustee’s lawyer (Irv Ackelsberg) stated in the meeting last month that he has filed a motion with the Bankruptcy Court to obtain a court order that declares the Freemans do not own the Holding Companies. That is a good thing to finally happen…but there is good and there is bad…(I hope you’re still reading)…

The Trustee is also asking the Court to allow a transfer of the properties to the PRA…BAD! WHY? Anyone paying attention to the news stories about public land transfers and Councilmanic prerogative will understand that the PRA and the Land Bank are not the best solution for Germantown.

We still are waiting for the Old YWCA to be developed…this was one of the Settlement properties that landed back with the PRA years ago (2011 or 2012?) that clearly demonstrates that the PRA has no power to get that done in a timely and effective way. So, I plan to represent Germantown as a “party in interest” in the bankruptcy proceeding to object to that transfer.

In the interest of transparency, I have no experience in bankruptcy proceedings, but I know enough substantive law that supports social justice principles that I’m giving it a try.

I ask for your interest, support, assistance (especially anyone who has knowledge of such litigation), and prayers. We must be resolved to seek the best for Germantown…wealth building with affordable housing for first-time home buyers; mixed income rentals; market-driven commercial property development to create jobs and venues for artists; historic preservation…all of which are needed for community rebuilding.

PRA plans to turn these properties over to Philadelphia Housing Authority…that is not the best for Germantown! I am resolved…how about you?? Tell your friends and neighbors, too… Thank you for paying attention.

A Final Word

I have a message I hope will inspire. If Germantowners could agree and collaborate on getting rid of Emanuel Freeman, we can exercise power for other things. Our opportunity to listen, learn and start doing things has never been as high as NOW. Get on Facebook and join the Germantown groups (Living in Germantown and Changing Germantown), attend the community meetings called by Germantown United CDC, go to your local RCO meetings (SEARCH HERE) when you get a notice about a zoning change in your area, and, most importantly, don’t be afraid of new people coming to Germantown who want to live here.

If we support first-time homebuyers, require good and affordable rental housing, Germantown is big enough to welcome everyone. We have the good bones (history, art, architecture, Soul), the largest commercial area in the Northwest, and the variety in architecture even better than Mt. Airy. We just need to work together For the Love of Germantown!!

About Yvonne Haskins 1 Article
Yvonne B. Haskins has substantial and varied experience as a lawyer, financial underwriter, developer, public administrator, community/economic development planner, and community-based organization director. Her current focus is real estate law, affordable housing and economic development projects. She initiated a process that resulted in the creation of Germantown United Community Development Corporation, whose mission is to revitalize and bring improvements to the commercial corridors in the Germantown community.

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