PHA OKs Liddonfield sale to Holy Family group

The Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has en­dorsed a plan to re­devel­op the former Lid­don­field Homes pub­lic hous­ing com­plex in Up­per Holmes­burg in­to a new cam­pus for Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity.

Un­der terms dis­closed at PHA’s board meet­ing on Fri­day, the hous­ing agency would sell the now-va­cant 32-acre tract at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Megar­gee Street to a joint ven­ture com­prised of the uni­versity and three de­vel­op­ment firms led by Ben­s­alem-based BSI Con­struc­tion.

The joint ven­ture would pay $4.2 mil­lion to PHA for the land. In ad­di­tion, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity would give $1.04 mil­lion in schol­ar­ship fund­ing over 10 years to 40 PHA-res­id­ent stu­dents, while $550,000 of de­vel­op­ment costs would “be used in con­nec­tion with Sec­tion 3 op­por­tun­it­ies,” ac­cord­ing to a res­ol­u­tion ad­op­ted by PHA Com­mis­sion­er Es­telle Rich­man, act­ing as the lone mem­ber of PHA’s board.

Sec­tion 3 is a fed­er­al Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment pro­gram by which pub­lic hous­ing res­id­ents and qual­i­fy­ing busi­nesses are awar­ded con­tract work on cer­tain HUD-as­sisted pro­jects.

“We’re hop­ing that neigh­bor­hood, that sec­tion, can be trans­formed,” said BSI co-own­er John Par­sons, who com­pared the pro­ject to those com­pleted or un­der con­struc­tion at oth­er uni­versit­ies in the city, in­clud­ing Temple, Drexel and Penn.

The “Holy Fam­ily Plan,” as it has be­come known, in­cludes ath­let­ic fields and park­ing on most of the ground, along with re­tail and uni­versity res­id­ences along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and a 64-unit hous­ing com­plex for low-in­come seni­ors along Cot­tage Street.

“It’s a game-changer for North­east Phil­adelphia and it’s a game-changer for PHA and its res­id­ents to provide op­por­tun­it­ies for the fu­ture,” said City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, who test­i­fied dur­ing the board meet­ing.

“I would say con­grat­u­la­tions to the people in the Up­per Holmes­burg area,” said Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, pres­id­ent of Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity. “The gov­ern­ment re­spon­ded to our needs. And con­grat­u­la­tions to those who will be the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies of the PHA schol­ar­ships. That’s really what it’s all about.”

A form­al agree­ment of sale is pending, but PHA in­ter­im ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Kelvin A. Jeremi­ah said the parties will meet as early as Monday to fi­nal­ize the terms.

“We will move with all de­lib­er­ate speed to get it done. This provides us with the basis to start talk­ing,” Jeremi­ah said.

Fri­day’s PHA board en­dorse­ment en­abled form­al ne­go­ti­ations to be­gin.

Rich­man’s ac­tion brought to an end months of spec­u­la­tion and con­cern by the site’s neigh­bors about who would be giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to buy it and what the buy­er in­ten­ded to build there.

PHA de­mol­ished the former apart­ment com­plex in 2010 with the help of fed­er­al and state fund­ing. Last year, the hous­ing agency is­sued a re­quest for pro­pos­als from po­ten­tial buy­ers, al­low­ing the agency, elec­ted of­fi­cials and the com­munity to as­sess in­terest in and pos­sib­il­it­ies for the prop­erty.

About 20 po­ten­tial bid­ders showed in­terest in the site, sources have said, but only four pro­pos­als were sub­mit­ted form­ally by the Jan. 7 dead­line. Two lead­ing pro­pos­als emerged from the pack, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the pro­cess.

In ad­di­tion to the Holy Fam­ily/BSI plan, a plan by Ply­mouth Meet­ing-based de­veloper Ro­iz­man De­vel­op­ment Inc. re­ceived ser­i­ous con­sid­er­a­tion from PHA.

Ro­iz­man pro­posed to build low-in­come hous­ing on about 12 acres, leav­ing the re­main­ing 20 acres for oth­er un­spe­cified de­vel­op­ment. Com­pany own­er Is­rael Ro­iz­man did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on Fri­day’s PHA res­ol­u­tion.

Neigh­bors largely op­posed new low-in­come hous­ing, fear­ing it would at­tract many of the same prob­lems long as­so­ci­ated with the old Lid­don­field pro­ject, in­clud­ing crime, blight and de­clin­ing loc­al prop­erty val­ues.

Mean­while, com­munity lead­ers and elec­ted of­fi­cials view the Holy Fam­ily Plan as a po­ten­tial cata­lyst for eco­nom­ic re­devel­op­ment of the neigh­bor­hood.

“The eco­nom­ic im­pact over the next twenty years is amaz­ing,” said Stan Cy­w­in­ski, pres­id­ent of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation, which en­dorsed the Holy Fam­ily/BSI pro­pos­al in Janu­ary.

Cy­w­in­ski pre­pared an eco­nom­ic-im­pact study of the plan, tak­ing city wage taxes, prop­erty taxes, sales taxes and oth­er factors in­to con­sid­er­a­tion dur­ing de­vel­op­ment phases and fu­ture op­er­a­tion of the cam­pus.

“With low-in­come hous­ing, the rev­en­ue for the city is min­im­al com­pared to a com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ment like a uni­versity,” Cy­w­in­ski said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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