Where do the stars come from? Why are we here? These questions have no definitive answer or explanation. Similarly questions with no definitive answers arise when talking about the housing situation in Hunting Park.
Melvin Smith, director of constituent services for Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell Clarke, explained that there are many factors contributing to the dilapidated houses and vacant lots in the Hunting Park area.
“It’s not one thing that contributes to the vacant lots. Businesses are not coming in as much as we would like. There are many factors,” Smith said.
Like many Philadelphians, residents in Hunting Park are struggling. The jobs are scarce and many residents are falling behind on paying bills. The largest expense for many is their home. And many squeezed by the economy are falling behind on expenses involving their home.
“Once you miss a payment or two then you’re really in trouble. It’s like a snowball down a hill, it gets larger and larger until it crushes you,” said Luis Ortiz Resto, a local landlord and resident.
Hunting Park, like many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, was once a flourishing place to live and work. It was and still is home to many brownstones and large beautiful homes. But with many residents left unemployed and other residents leaving and not returning, Hunting Park has been subjected to the same ill winds blowing through many other neighborhoods in North Philadelphia.
“People just need help,” said Hunting Park resident and developer Griffin Campbell. “I remember when I was a kid this area was great. People cared about their homes. But now, economy aside, people are just renters so it’s just whatever.”
Campbell was referring to the lack of home ownership in the area. There has been a decline due to the economic situation of the neighborhood. The median household income has stayed the same while the per capita income has gone down. The average per capita income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is now only $9,702. The average mortgage is between $599 and $1,000 per month. That economic imbalance means many residents cannot keep up.
There are 10,355 owner-occupied houses within Hunting Park and 9,346 of those are valued at under $50,000.
“I feel like people won’t buy because of the condition of the area. It looks a mess so why would you want your family and children living here? I love this city and it upsets me, I try to make this area nice but it is hard with the lack of responsibility on the part of new construction,” Luis Ortiz Resto said.
Resto said he believes the problem is more cosmetic. “You see this and you say, I don’t want to live here. My property is right across from the school and this lot on the corner has been like this for three years,” Resto said.
Resto is referring to the lot where new construction was planned and had begun but was stopped one day and has never resumed. This is not an uncommon problem in Hunting Park. Finding an abandoned lot or abandoned construction is as easy as just looking around. They have become a staple of a once great neighborhood.
There are 22,188 housing units in Hunting Park. Of those, 3,329 units are abandoned and 7,735 units are rented, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that almost half of all the housing in Hunting Park is either abandoned or not owned by the occupant.
For landlord Griffin Campbell the abandonment/renter equation is the problem. “You see when people don’t own their homes they do not care about them. They won’t be there for the rest of their lives so there is no sense of pride that goes along with the pride of owning a home.”
Another issue brought up by Griffin and a few other residents who did not wish to be identified, is the severe lack of higher education.
According to a homeowner on Pike Street, there aren’t many people with college degrees. “With education comes jobs and most of the people who get job’s move out. That’s what my son did,” one resident said.
The total population of Hunting Park is 57,125, according to the Census Bureau. The number of people with college degrees is 1,567. That is less than one in 50 who’ve pursued higher education.
“It is not just a city issue. It’s a resident and city issue. Residents have to realize that they have to do their part as well,” City Council staff member Melvin Smith said.
“The residents need to clean up. Developers need to stop starting things and not finishing. Police need to put away the drug dealers and the city needs to invest more time and money here,” Resto said.
Residents and city officials agree that the declining housing situation in Hunting Park is a culmination of many things.
“It will take a little from everybody,” Griffin Campbell said. “All that needs to happen is people need to work together and care. Add a little help from the city and new development, Hunting Park can reach it’s potential and I believe it will.”