By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Housing Authority broke ground Thursday at 24th and Bolton Streets on what officials are calling the largest housing development project in city history. City officials are projecting that when this multi-phase, multi-year project is complete, it will have a $1.4 billion, positive impact on North Philadelphia.
For two years, residents of the Sharswood-Blumberg community worked with city officials to develop a plan to redevelop the area. The ground breaking for the new Blumberg Apartments is just phase one. The 57-unit apartment building will be constructed on three vacant lots and is scheduled to be complete next July.
“Today is the beginning of the transformation for this entire neighborhood,” says Kelvin Jeremiah, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. “We are using the transformative power of government to turn a community and make it a neighborhood of choice.
PHA is leveraging nearly $500 million in investments to build 1,200 units, with 1,000 slated for affordable rental and home ownership units. Roughly 500 of those are promised to residents relocated from within the neighborhood to make room as demolition and rehabbing moves forward.
“I’m excited about what it could be, but I’m scared, I’m scared to death,” says Loretta Horton, who has lived in Sharswood for 40 years. She’s one of about 120 residents who have been given notice to move out within the next 90 days. It could be years before she can return.
Reporter: Do you think that you’ll move back when it’s complete and everything is brand new?
“I hope so, but I doubt it,” says Horton, “I don’t believe they’ll bring us back.”
Once complete the Sharswood/Blumberg project is estimated to have a $1.4 billion impact on North Philadelphia. It includes 100,000 square feet of commercial space, green space and much more. In addition, PHA says each phase of the project will bring 100 jobs to the area.
“This is a ten part plan — it will take time,” Mayor Michael Nutter told the crowd at the ground breaking. “The community has done its part– now its up to the government to do its part.”
The residents of the Sharswood community have lived through years of unprecedented decline. It had been decades since PHA invested in the area, where a more than 60 percent of the residents live in poverty.
“I believe that this project will change the future of this community and the future of the folks here,” says Asia Coney, president of Resident Advisory Board. She spoke during the ceremony addressing those with concerns, those who remember urban renewal and the displacement of many low-income families.
“A year or so when you look around — it’s going to be totally different,” says Coney, who challenged the residents to get involved. “Hold us accountable and make sure we deliver what we say we will deliver.”
City and elected officials say this project will not mirror the gentrification in other neighborhoods where long-term residents are moved out so higher income folks can move in.
“Anybody who lives here will be given the opportunity to come back,” says Darrell Clark, city council president, “we want to make sure based on the affordability structure of this deal that people will be able to stay in this community or come into this community and take advantage of the low and moderate income housing.”
PHA says it could take eight to ten years to complete the entire project complete.