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Abandoned homes, vacant lots and crumbling structures have not always been how the Nicetown/Tioga area was decorated. Believe it or not, this community used to host several booming businesses and the streets were once lined with well kept row homes.
Joe Louis Jones is member of the Zion Baptist Church, located at 3600 N. Broad St. in Nicetown. As a member of the community for the past 43 years he has experienced the neighborhood’s drastic changes firsthand.
“I’ve seen a change in the neighborhood completely. When I first came all the homes that you see abandoned now, peoples, families lived there,” said Jones.
Though many of these dilapidated houses are located among and occupied homes, there is still at least one, if not multiple, boarded and vacant homes on every block of the Nicetown/Tioga area. One such block is next to the Zion Church.There a row of homes that are falling apart, but the church is hoping to do something about it. It has been in the process of pairing up with contracting and construction companies to fix up the empty houses. It plans to renovate the structures and fill them with local families.
“We are working hard to get this block, to be every house will be occupied or rehabbed…I hope it will be like it once was,” said Jones.
The church is not alone in its mission to renovate the community. The Philadelphia Housing Authority has built some Section 8 homes in the area. Spokespersons for PHA said that it does not have any existing or ongoing projects in Nicetown.
“The gang war all got so bad, people fled and moved to different areas,” said Jones.
According to the Philadelphia Police Department database, between Jan. 28 and Feb. 27 there were 31 violent and theft-related crimes in the surrounding blocks of 15th and Tioga streets in the year 2007. Such crimes included rape, murder, burglary, assault, theft and stolen vehicles. 2007 is the same year Jones credited drug and gang activity to many residents leaving the area. The number of crimes decreased to 24 in 2008, then to only 15 in following two years.
As rates of crime peaked, many businesses in the area also made the decision to relocate. According to the U.S. Census, the average Nicetown household income is 54 per cent is below the 200 per cent poverty level rate. Additionally, only 33 per cent of residents over 25 years old have a high school diploma. Due to such outlying economic and social factors, the community was drained of financial resources. Consequently, less money flowed into the community, and boards began to appear on windows and doors of the neighborhoods buildings.
Robin Walker, a Nicetown resident for 21 years, doesn’t know why there are so many empty houses.
“It has to get that bad for something to happen. It has to get that bad. It’s ridiculous,” said Walker.
Walker added that maybe people are leaving because the city is unresponsive to the calls to help the local residents.
“The woman behind me is 80-something years old. She does patchwork, like fixing things here or there, but the house is still falling apart. The roof has been leaking, so I called the city to help. But they said they couldn’t do anything since the structure is still sound. But she can’t live with a hole in the roof, so I fixed it. Out of my own pocket,” said Walker.
She has been calling and leaving messages for the city since August to fix the repairs and has yet to hear back from them. PHA representatives were unable to comment when asked about the situation.
The community is much different today then it was back in its prime. It is still experiencing much change today and is facing one of its toughest challenges: renovating and rebuilding. When asked what they want to see in the future, residents called out for things like shopping centers, movie theaters and more grocery stores as the starting projects to better the neighborhood.
Though the houses and buildings aren’t like they’ve been in the past, Jones is optimistic about the future.
“I am a firm believer that this area will be formally like it once was and I truly believe that it will be striving and blooming like it was 40 years ago. I can see it now,” said Jones