Despite all of the talk about Mantua’s designation as a federal Promise Zone, one of the main facets missing currently are plans and progress.
Katherine Loxley, one of the remaining residents living on the property of a proposed supermarket is not happy about how the city has acquired her and her former neighbors’ land through eminent domain.
“I bought this house as my first real young person’s investment, with the hopes of renting it out to Drexel students,” Loxley said. “I told myself I need to buy this house, and now the city has taken that opportunity away from me.”
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According to the federal plan for the Promise Zone Initiative, designated zones will allow tax-cuts on hiring and investments for businesses. Loxley, artist James Dupree and Blackstar Hardware owner Joe Boyd are worried that the benefits of the designation will go to big businesses and universities, instead of the business owners already operating in Mantua.
“If you look at it, there are all these news articles, TV stories, all kinds of buzz about this but you don’t see anything happening,” said Loxley. “Even with Dornsife (Drexel’s community outreach center), you don’t see local contractors working. There’s all these trucks from Jersey over there.”
Living next to Philadelphia artist James Dupree, Loxley has been fighting the same battle as Dupree for seven years now. Alongside these two is another Philadelphia Artist, Samantha Monroe. Introducing herself as “Woman X,” Monroe has also had the deed to her house reclaimed by the city. Owning a beautiful house directly behind Dupree, Monroe has faced almost as much trouble as Dupree and Loxley.
“This was my house,” Monroe said. “I did all of the mosaics, planted all of the gardens, even made the backyard into something great. How can they just come and condemn it. This was my dream.”
Monroe spent several months traveling in South America only to find out her house on Mt. Vernon street had become home to squatters. “Don’t shoot me! This is my house!” Monroe yelled as she approached the broken window which squatters had laid a jacket over to climb in and out of.
Earlier in March, Eugene Rouse of 37th and
Wallace streets had claimed the owner of the property had sent him to watch over it.
“The owners told me to keep watch of the place,” Rouse said. “People had come to steal from it and dump tires.”
When asked about Rouse’s presence at the property, Monroe confirmed his status as a squatter.
“I never sent anyone to look over this place,” she said. “They just invited themselves in.”
When the Mantua Civic Association started laying out plans that would help push Mantua into the national spotlight while applying for a federal Promise Zone status, the supermarket plan helped add crucial “points” to Mantua’s application. These points are used to help federal agencies determine which projects get funding throughout the country. The more points a project proposal gets, the more likely the project is to get funded by the government. Notices are sent out to community leaders as to when government funding becomes available. One of the more common misconceptions about the Promise Zone initiative is that it comes with a big chunk of federal money. No money comes with the designation, just easier access to it.
There used to be nearly 20 residents living on the 3600 block of both Haverford Avenue and the 3600 block of Mt. Vernon Street. Loxley, Monroe and Dupree are the only three who have not taken the city’s offer for their property.
“When you mess with one artist, you mess with them all,” Monroe remarked about Dupree’s public struggle against the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Dupree recently published a book, “Stolen Dreams in the Promised Zone,” which documents his studio and all of the artwork inside of it.
Mantua will be changing in the future. There is a point where this battle between artist and the city government will come to a tipping point. No matter what happens, James Dupree, Samantha Monroe and Katherine Loxely will attempt to stay in their houses.