The droning sounds of generators, backhoes, hammers and dropped lumber fill a section of North Central Philadelphia.
From Broad Street west to 20th Street, and from Oxford Street northward up to Susquehanna Avenue this section of the North Central neighborhood is changing rapidly.
In just a 12-block sample of this large area in North Central, 206 lots have been purchased since 2003 including a whopping 139 since 2007, with 88 of those 206 lots being vacant at the time of sale.
Interestingly, the houses being built or renovated in this area are not for families to move into the neighborhood. They are intended for students of nearby Temple University to live in while attending the school.
“They’re buying everybody out…trying to anyway,” says “Crip” Nelson, a 13-year resident of 1841 N. Bouvier St. “If they want to sell, they sell. If they don’t, they don’t. I’m happy.”
One of these companies is Newport Capital, Inc. The corporation is a partnership of private owners who have purchased various lots in the area. According to one of Newport Capital’s partners, Cesar Sanchez, the company owns 42 properties in the area near Temple University.
It seems the majority of this area’s residents don’t really mind the increase in students. Only a few have small issues with the change, mostly dealing with the construction process itself, while a select few don’t like the prospect of being severely outnumbered by students.
“Temple is taking over,” says Cierra Green, 17, a resident of North Bouvier Street her entire life. “I don’t like it [because] they’re building [the houses] up too fast.”
Tabitha Smith agrees.
“Every time I turn the corner there’s another one up. I walk past and say ‘Where’d that house come from?’”
Smith, a resident of the area for over 20 years and a mother of two small children, believes the community is dirtier than it’s ever been.
“The cars drive by and the dust gets in the kids’ eyes. They can’t see,” says Smith. “I’ve never seen Bouvier Street like this. It’s nasty.”
Crip Nelson notes that his block of North Bouvier Street has seen changes beyond just an increase in students moving into the neighborhood. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has responded to the increase by placing a two-hour parking limit on the 1800 block for those without a parking permit.
“It’s really for the residents on the block so they can get a parking spot because they couldn’t get none,” says Nelson. “There’s a lot of old people on this block.”
To be eligible for a residential parking sticker, the vehicle must display a Pennsylvania license plate and be registered to the owner’s home address that must be within the area’s permit parking district. The majority of students do not have the apartment they are renting listed as their home address on their driver’s license.
According to “Stormin’” Norman Barham, a longtime resident of the area, the abandoned houses being renovated for students have been vacant for no more than 20 years. The cause of the abandoned homes in this community is similar to abandonment throughout Philadelphia. Children move away from home; their parents either die or follow them out of the neighborhood. If the children don’t move back, the house will sit abandoned.
“You see the guy over there?” says Barham, pointing at a neighbor washing his car, “His mother [lived] there. He owns it now.”
One example of quick turnover involves a community resident who died three months ago. The three homes this person owned on the 1800 block of North Bouvier Street are already being renovated and sold by Coldwell Banker.
Barham, a Vietnam veteran and retired police officer, said he’s worked on the majority of the homes in the area.
“I could have bought that three story house for eight grand but I said no,” says Barham. “This boarded up house right here, they got to fix the inside. When I moved out, [my wife’s family] they started tearing the place up. Holes in the walls and all that stuff.”
Barham, who has witnessed parts of his community fall into disrepair, welcomes the change brought by the various development companies and partnerships.
“It’s needed,” says Barham. “You think something should move further than what it is or was. It’s better for the community.”
Tabitha Smith feels the same way as Barham. She believes developing the empty lots and abandoned homes makes the community safer.
“It’s better than having [an empty] lot. Smokers will go over there, drop the match and poof! The whole block is on fire,” says Smith. “It only takes one match. You know how many people can get killed from one lot and one match?”
Despite the benefits of empty lots being purchased some residents want a few of the open lots to remain intact, particularly the community garden. One resident expressed his concern that he did not want a house built where the garden is located, saying they need a community garden somewhere in the neighborhood.
The garden he referred to appears as if it has not been tended to in quite some time. Barham confirmed this observation, saying, “Nobody uses it anymore.”