Strawberry Mansion: New Project Seeks to Revitalize Neighborhood]

Mayor Michael Nutter adresses the crowd at the ground breaking on 31st Street, between Diamond and Berks Streets.

City and state officials gathered under a white canvas tent on the mud-covered corner of 31st and Diamond streets on Tuesday to celebrate the commencement of the Strawberry Mansion Townhomes project.

The event featured an array of speakers including Mayor Michael Nutter, State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes and City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke. The turnout for the event was notably large as eager residents gathered around the podium to express their support for the revitalization of their neighborhood.

Tornetta Graham, the president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corp., spoke about the patience and determination the community members displayed over the years as vague plans for the project slowly became a reality. “A long time ago this was a bustling commercial corridor,” Graham said. “The businesses and residents of 31st Street have kept the spirit of community alive.”

Strawberry Mansion residents react as the official groundbreaking comes to a close.

Councilman Clarke, a lifelong resident of Strawberry Mansion, spoke of his fondness for the neighborhood and the high hopes he has that it will soon return to its retail-based roots and bring new business in from around the city. “We’re located in the most strategic place in the city,” Clarke said, citing the community’s close proximity to city landmarks like the zoo, Fairmount Park and the expressway.

Friends Rehabilitation Program, a non-profit organization specializing in housing and social services for low- and moderate-income families, developed the Strawberry Mansion Townhomes specifically for first-time buyers. The one distinctive aspect of the project is that before purchasing the new homes, buyers will engage in home ownership counseling. This service is meant to provide first-time buyers with the skills and responsibilities of owning a home.

The 25 new residences, located two blocks outside of Fairmount Park, will renew the historic neighborhood and bring in occupants from other parts of Philadelphia. This project will complement Friends Rehabilitation Program’s recent restoration of 10 historic townhomes on Berks Street. These efforts aim to highlight bringing in new people to the underdeveloped neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion in hopes of increasing population as well as affordable housing options.

Prospective homeowners must fit certain requirements in order to live in the three- and four-bedroom townhomes. The houses are priced from $110,000-$140,000 and buyers must be below 80 percent of the area median income, which in this case averages $62,650 for a family of four. Again, it is also necessary that they are first-time home buyers. The residences include energy-efficient construction, central air-conditioning and either a large backyard or sideyard.

Those active in the project, along with local politicians, commence the official ground breaking ceremony.

All who have been involved in getting this project off the ground, from community residents to state and city officials, are enthusiastic and hopeful that the development will be a step in the right direction toward turning the blighted neighborhood around. “This development is a welcome addition to Strawberry Mansion,” said Councilman Clarke. There is little doubt that the rest of the community echoes this sentiment.

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