The Women’s Community Revitalization Project, a nonprofit working to build affordable housing and provide supportive services to low-income women and their families, has received a $10,000 from The Citizen’s Bank Foundation.
That money, according to Carolyn Haynes, deputy director of WCRP, will go toward WCRP’s Tenant Services Program. The program is part of the supportive services - like case management and counseling - WCRP provides to its 238 tenant families.
WCRP is located at 407 Fairmount Ave. in Northern Liberties, but has built nine housing developments throughout eastern north Philadelphia, Haynes said.
Through the Tenant Services program, tenants are connected to the opportunities and services they need, like employment, education and financial services.
“We have a long standing relationship with all our tenants,” Haynes said. “We feel really good that people make progress and improve their financial and family life.”
The monetary boost to WCRP’s tenant services may help bring attention to what staff members and tenants alike said they know for sure—that WCRP does much more than simply build places to live.
“Our work is holistic,” said Nora Lichtash, executive director of WCRP during a phone interview July 13. “It’s not just housing, it’s providing support for people to improve their economic situation.”
In the past, WCRP development has been met with community backlash. Star staff members were present for two separate community meetings during which locals expressed concern about the details of WCRP proposals.
At a May 9 meeting in Kensington, locals voted 60-to-21 against a proposal for the Nitza Tufino town homes. The homes would be developed at 1942 N. Front St., in the space where a deteriorating former bank building now stands. Concerns ranged from the availability of parking to crime in the area.
At that time, Star wrote, “Lichtash insists that WCRP is focused on the community’s concerns going forward. She said the organization has held community meetings to work through issues and nail down specifics of the project.”
And in a June 20 meeting of the Port Richmond West Community Action Network, Lichtash personally discussed a proposal to bring 36 homes, and 36 parking spots, to a vacant lot at Auburn Street and Trenton Avenue, the site of a former carpet factory.
Star wrote that at that meeting, “Neighbors worried aloud that the project…could impact the property values of their homes.”
“We have only built houses where there has been blight,” Lichtash said over the phone. “We only build on vacant land. There has never been a case where the property value has not increased.”
Lichtash also said that WCRP tenants are expected to maintain their properties and be proactive members of the community.
“We have easily reviewed 10 applicants for every one house,” she said. “We have our choice of tenants, and we choose only the best.”
She said prospective tenants go through an interview and screening process before they are chosen.
“They’re no different than anyone else in the neighborhood. Most people want to improve their own lives and the lives of their kids. That’s who our tenants are,” she said.
Nashanta Robinson, a WCRP tenant since June 2009, is a 32-year-old mother of three. She lives in the WCRP-developed Evelyn Sanders complex on 9th and Indiana streets. She said WCRP has been more than just a landlord—the organization has helped her to become a community leader.
“It’s not like they’re building these houses to get our rent, and we’re just a number,” she said. “They’re building these houses, and they’re building the community.”
Robinson said she understands that there might be a misconception about WCRP tenants.
“I think maybe when you say, ‘affordable housing,’ people think, ‘poor people are dirty,’ or ‘poor people are dumb,’” she said. “It’s not like a project home or even like a Section 8; WCRP really wants to teach their tenants values, so we can give back.”
Robinson said the organization’s supportive services helped her provide programs and activities for other WCRP tenants.
“I made it a goal to do programs so the residents had something to do,” she said.
Robinson held a “literacy” party for tenants, and arranged for the Eagles Book Mobile to pay a visit. She said supportive services made petty cash available for her to host the party. Now, as Robinson studies business administration, she said WCRP is helping to turn her and other tenants into community leaders.
“They saw a leader in me before I saw one in myself,” she said.
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.