Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) brass will join elected officials and residents in North Philadelphia Wednesday morning to celebrate the completion of 57 new rental units. The brick townhomes represent the first phase of the agency’s ambitious $500 million effort to revitalize Sharswood, one of the city’s poorest sections.
“This is not your mother’s public housing, your grandmother’s public housing,” said PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah. “These are units in a neighborhood that is quickly going to become a neighborhood of choice, where families would want to live.”
The new black, tan, and red brick buildings sit on several blocks near the mostly empty footprint of the Norman Blumberg Apartments at 23rd and Jefferson Streets.
The units are a mix of one- and- two-bedroom duplexes, three- and- four-bedroom homes, and triplexes. Residents are expected to start moving in as early as Thanksgiving. Former residents of the Blumberg Apartments who relocated to make way for the project were given a right to return to the redeveloped site.
In March, PHA imploded the two, half-century old high-rise apartment buildings that anchored the eight-acre Blumberg complex. More than 100 low-rise units were also taken down.
In the coming year, PHA expects to start in on several other phases of its neighborhood transformation plan. The list includes rehabbing the Blumberg senior tower and building PHA’s new headquarters.
A streetscape project and a new Save-A-Lot grocery store are also in the works for Ridge Avenue.
“There will be a development boom in that area in a real way,” said Jeremiah. “We have a very aggressive development agenda and I have every confidence that we’ll be able to deliver.”
To execute its neighborhood transformation plan, PHA began the process of acquiring some 1,300 properties in the neighborhood through eminent domain in 2015. Most of the seized properties are vacant, tax-delinquent, or publicly owned, though dozens were occupied. The land will be used for both residential and commercial development.
Jeremiah said PHA’s timetable for the project hasn’t changed. He expects construction to wrap up in the next 5-7 years, as long as the agency is able to secure all of the necessary funding.
"For the entire project, we are probably 70 percent - at least," Jeremiah said of the current funding. "I'm extremely confident that we will have the other 30 or so percent." The projected funding sources listed in the transformation plan include Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal block grants, PHA and city dollars, as well as private sources.
It’s unclear how difficult it will be to find the millions needed to complete the project, but there is considerable concern that funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for affordable housing projects like the one in Sharswood could continue to diminish under President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump is still in the process of selecting HUD’s next secretary and did not issue a housing policy during the campaign.
“As President Obama said, I think he’s deserving of a chance to lead and to put out his plan and then have the public go at that plan,” said Jeremiah.