Earlier this month, a joint project between Community Ventures and South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. Inc. won affordable housing home ownership rehabilitation program funding through the Office of Housing and Community Development.
The project is the construction of 11, three-story, three-to-four bedroom homes in Point Breeze, priced between $110,000 and $180,000 per house.
“This project is Community Ventures as a developer, they’re in conjunction with the city, so this is like a mid to upper income revitalization project. It’s government funded,” said Steve Meyers, taking a break from the construction on the 1600 block of Federal Street.
“There’s a courtyard over where that machine is, there’s parking out back so there will be off –street parking. There’s going to be handicap units so we cater to the handicap people,” Meyers said, motioning to the construction site behind him.
The houses are to be complete by December, Meyers said.
While the spotlight might be on the newest project, community development organizations have been a staple in many South Philadelphia neighborhoods, especially over the last two to three years, said Claudia Sherrod, executive director of South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. and the president of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.
“I lived around here for a long time, it’s changed,” said Crystal Evans, a resident of the 1500-block of Ellsworth Street. “Gamble and Huff properties, most of them brothers, they’re like famous in the music industry, and they’ve contributed to this neighborhood [by] developing around here.”
Frank Gregg, a longtime resident of Point Breeze, said, “The community has changed a lot in many ways, as far as businesses, more businesses coming, different cultures here, nicer houses,”
“You can look and [community development organizations] are building over there now, it’s getting better and better,” Gregg said.
Meyers said that the local community development organizations are trying to get back the neighborhoods. “Community Ventures just wrapped up a project at 32nd Street and Cecil [B. Moore Avenue], and it totally just totally revitalized the area. If you go there, you’d be like ‘Oh my God, it looks like it’s in the suburbs.’ There’s fences and gated yards,” Meyers said.
The project on Cecil B. Moore Avenue was a low-income project where Community Ventures gave the buyers a down payment and sold the houses for half of their worth.
“So they have no money out of pocket, and they get a new house for the same price as renting. But they’re trying something a little different with the ownership program, so hopefully the product stays nice for years to come,” Meyers said.
The Office of Housing and Community Development, through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has been working to preserve affordability in Point Breeze.
According to the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, during the past 20 years, more than 500 units of affordable home ownership, rental and senior and special needs housing have been produced through construction and rehabilitation in Point Breeze.
Other goals of the projects include providing local construction jobs and helping to strengthen the local economy.
“The commitment of community developers such as Universal Community Homes, Community Ventures, South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S., Point Breeze CDC and others has been critical to the revitalization of neighborhoods in South Philadelphia,” said Deborah McColloch, director of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development.
Community members agree.
“I’ve been around here for a while,” said Jefferey Harris, a longtime resident of Point Breeze. “Wow, very much has changed. Everything’s upgraded. It’s better, it’s a whole lot better.”
Professor David Bartelt, a geography and urban studies professor at Temple University, said community development organizations play a big role in the South Philadelphia neighborhoods, particularly west of Broad Street.
“[A lot of] the neighborhood dynamics are now colored by what’s going on with the projects Universal Homes is undertaking,” Bartelt said.
According to 2000 census data, there were 39,259 total housing units in South Philadelphia, west of Broad Street. Of those, 32,961 were occupied, with 19,633 occupied by an owner and 13,328 occupied by a renter. There were 6,298 vacant homes.
Community members have noticed the positive changes that revitalization projects have brought to the area.
“I went to school around here, Barratt Jr. High School, this never looked like this. It’s cleaner, it’s nicer, it’s respectful. [There is] no more violence and all that, there’s not a lot of violence, not like it was before when we were kids,” Harris said. “It’s a good thing, it changed a lot. I like it.”
Greeg agreed. “It’s more respectful. Our neighbors are more working as one, instead of working against each other we’re working as one. It changed so much since were kids,” he said.
However, some residents said it is not enough.
“[Community development organizations] do contribute a lot here. When I do what I need to do, I’m going to make bigger progress,” Evans said. “I think more can be done.”