Philadelphia Housing Authority officials, politicians and community members broke ground on the $4.55 million Oakdale Street Apartments development. (Photo By Abdul Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer)
Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) officials joined politicians and community members this week for the groundbreaking of a $4.55-million development in the 2800 block of West Oakdale St.
The groundbreaking on Tuesday marked the first of three PHA developments planned for Strawberry Mansion, a section of North Philadelphia near Fairmount Park that once featured mansions for the rich before falling into poverty. When all of the developments are complete, PHA will have invested $30 million in developing 100 new affordable-housing units in the neighborhood.
“These kinds of developments, in my view, are transformative for the communities where they are” said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah. “If you drive around this community you would see where the richness and vibrancy used to be and I believe that PHA can play a role in helping to restore that vibrancy. We want to create communities where people want to live — where people are going to make it a choice to live. It’s not a question of us just building units. It’s a question of us trying to create communities of choice.”
Bonita Cummings, a committee woman and director of Strawberry Mansion Concerns, wants the new development to lead to jobs for local residents.
“We appreciate the development but it’s not going to be fair and equitable if the people here are not going to make any money,” said Cummings, who is also a member of the Strawberry Mansion Task Force.
PHA scheduled a job fair this week at the construction site, but Cummings feared union workers would receive the bulk of the jobs. The Oakdale project will create 20 jobs and seven of them will be Section 3 hires, economic opportunities for low-income people, particularly residents of government-assistance housing, PHA officials said.
Tonnetta Graham, president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation (CDC) hailed the new development.
“As a resident, I’m happy to see that there have been plans for our neighborhood revitalization on all different levels. As a community leader it’s good to be at the forefront of that and be engaged in the process,” Graham said. “As a CDC, we feel as though residents need to be at the table when any development happens in our area. We also want to see that there is a variety of development.”
Jeremiah hopes that PHA’s development will spur other investments in quality, affordable housing in Strawberry Mansion.
“When it’s all said and done I believe that this will transform this community. Given what we see happening in terms of gentrification, we are trying to maintain affordability in communities that are gentrifying,” Jeremiah said.
PHA plans to break ground on a 21-unit development in the 2100 block of Garden Street in Strawberry Mansion with the next two months.
The apartments are being built behind the Widener Library and will consist of 12 units — eight two-bedroom townhouses and four one-bedroom duplexes — ranging from 720- to 1,264-square-feet. The 12-unit development will be energy efficient and feature modern kitchens, central heating and air conditioning and have grass field rear yards. Construction is expected to be completed by March 2015.
PHA Board Chair Lynette Brown-Sow said the Oakdale Street development brings hope to the historic neighborhood.
“Strawberry Mansion has been overlooked for too long. This project that we are doing here today will begin to show businesses and residents [of] this city that this neighborhood is a place of opportunity,” said Brown-Sow.
City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell were on hand to show their support for the new development.
“I want [to] thank the Housing Authority for investing in Strawberry Mansion in an earnest and a very significant way, and [for having] a willingness to come in and talk about a development process that I think is going to stimulate a lot of interest on the housing side of the Strawberry Mansion community,” Clarke said.
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