Rumors that a local rooming house might be converted into a halfway house have neighbors and the University concerned that the change could add to the area's crime problems. The house, located at 42nd and Chestnut streets, has been operating as a boarding house for several years. Even as a boarding house and formerly as a homeless shelter, area residents have considered the house a neighborhood nuisance. University administrators and business owners in the area said yesterday they are worried that bringing in rehabilitating criminals and drug addicts could lead to crime and other problems in the area. Allan and Beth Lieberman, who own the house, said they intend to use the building only as a rooming house, not a halfway house. Neighbors, however, do not believe them, and say the Liebermans told them a few months ago they were going to make it a halfway house. At least one unidentified neighbor was concerned enough about the project to distribute fliers around the area calling the project a "Crime Emergency." The fliers claimed students' chances of being murdered, raped or robbed would go up 75 percent if the building is turned into a halfway house. They urge concerned students to call University administrators to complain. "The last thing we need around Penn are more criminals and drug addicts," the fliers said. Assistant to the President William Epstein said even though the University is concerned about who occupies the house, this claim is greatly exaggerated. He said the tone of the fliers is "panicky." The Liebermans have owned the house, which runs from 4133 to 4139 Chestnut Street, for almost five years. For about three of those years they rented space in the house out to the city for use by the homeless. Epstein said the University considered the house a problem during that time. "There's no question in our minds that the property was a problem in terms of the contribution it made to loitering and crime," he said. The city stopped using the house nearly two years ago, and regular boarders moved in. Beth Lieberman said yesterday she and her brother soon had trouble with squatters living in the building. She said it took the two of them "a long time" to evict the squatters through the courts. Now, she said, they are trying to rehabilitate the building and bring in more boarders. The building can house up to 60 people, she said. It now has about 10 occupants. She said boarders are charged about $75 a week for a shared room and two meals a day. Lieberman said the rooms will not be available to anyone with a drug addiction or history of drug problems. "We will not rent to anyone who does drugs or has a drug background," she said. "Anyone who's living there has to be clean and free of drugs or alcohol." But Haig Injaian, the owner of a rug store on the block, said Beth Lieberman told him a few months ago the building would become a halfway house. He says he doesn't know whether she changed her mind or is just trying to cut down on negative publicity. Injaian said he and other businessmen consider the Liebermans "slum lords" and do not want them in the neighborhood. He said the house has been a constant problem and is the direct cause of some crime problems. He said he suspects several of the old squatters of breaking into his shop. He said the break-ins forced him to buy a metal grate for his windows. And, Injaian said, the residents of the house have driven customers away. He said a customer at a car wash across the street once returned to her car to find a man dressed only in underwear passed out in her back seat. Injaiamn said he recognized the man as one of the house's residents. "This neighborhood got really crime-infested," he said. "There were drug addicts and everyone in the neighborhood was broken into. There were dirty, dusty people urinating out the windows. It was a typical scum crop. We're not used to that up here." Lieberman said Injaian is attempting to stir up trouble to hurt her business. She said Injaian wants to prevent the rooming house from succeeding so he can buy the property. Injaian said he has offered to buy the property -- at about half of the Lieberman's asking price. He said he does own property adjacent to it but is more interested in clearing out a nuisance than in real estate speculation. "The reason I wanted to buy it was just to get this out of there and tear it all down," he said. Epstein said he has spoken with Injaian and other neighbors and shares some of their concerns. He said he and other University officials have checked to see if the Liebermans have all the necessary permits for the property. He said they do and that the lot is zoned for a rooming house. "We're not sure if there's any legal action we can take," he said. "But it's fair to say that there will be a number of neighbors and institutions in the area, the University included, that will keep an eye on it."Comments powered by Disqus
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