by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been six months since the Philadelphia Housing Authority demolished the Blumberg Apartment Towers in North Philadelphia, paving the way for one of the city’s most ambitious affordable housing efforts ever.
When you look around at all the construction going on, you can see that rebuilding Sharswood is hard work.
“This is perhaps the most significant community revitalization project ever undertaken by the Philadelphia Housing Authority,” says Kelvin Jeremiah, CEO of Philadelphia Housing Authority.
He walks these streets each week to oversee this 10 phase, $500 million revitalization that spans from 19th to 27th Streets, and from Cecil B. Moore to Girard College.
“These are high quality apartments that would rival those anywhere in the city,” he says.
Part one of phase one is 57 modern two-to-four bedrooms apartments with state of the art amenities.
Jeremiah says they’ll be done by Christmas, and many of the apartments are already claimed by former residents of the Blumberg Towers.
The goal is to eliminate past stigmas of public housing.
“We are designing homes now where people would be proud to live,” he says.
All of this progress has occurred just months after PHA relocated 1200 residents, demolished the Blumberg towers, and condemned 1300 properties to clear the way for 1200 new affordable housing units.
But with progress comes some pain.
“I’m about to cry,” says Beatrice Mack, one of the 300+ residents whose homes were taken by the city to make space for development. A title snag meant Mack and her eight children had to endure the inconvenience of construction.
“They tore down the other houses around me,” she says, “we had to deal with rodents– lots of rodents. Sometimes my house would shake.”
Mack retained an attorney at Community Legal Services. They helped her through the court process and now she’s finally moving to the home PHA gave her in exchange for her property.
“It’s a seven bedroom, three bath, huge yard, it’s nice,” says Mack, “I’m not coming back.”
“This is the result that was supposed to happen,” says Catherine Martin, staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Martin says while Mack is happy at the change, there are other homeowners who may want to come back, but will likely be priced out once the changes are complete.
“There are definitely people who are long term residents of this community who are being displaced,” she says.
“You cannot undertake this tremendous redevelopment project without some level of displacement,” says Jeremiah. But, he says, PHA worked hard to relocate families and compensate homeowners. At this point, only few remain.
But change is in progress. A new Save-A-Lot grocery store is planned on nearby Ridge Avenue, and PHA is even moving into the neighborhood.
Jeremiah says this long neglected section of North Philadelphia will soon feel the flood of investment.
“And I say, it couldn’t have come sooner,” he says.