Northeast Times

In Holme Circle, false flier sparks huge turnout

A private de­veloper is seek­ing pub­lic fund­ing to con­vert an old con­vent on Holme Av­en­ue in­to a 44-unit apart­ment com­plex for home­less mil­it­ary vet­er­ans and oth­er low-in­come people — but neigh­bor­hood folks already knew about that.

Com­munity groups have op­posed the plan for months.

So the real stun­ner to emerge from the monthly meet­ing of the Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation last Wed­nes­day was that about 200 people, eas­ily more than four times the usu­al num­ber, braved a bit­terly cold even­ing to sit in on what amoun­ted to a rap ses­sion about the evils of gov­ern­ment-sub­sid­ized or “Sec­tion 8” hous­ing.

Upon ex­it­ing the meet­ing room at St. Jerome School, many at­tendees at­trib­uted the huge turnout to an an­onym­ous fli­er dis­trib­uted throughout the neigh­bor­hood in ad­vance of the meet­ing. The leaf­let warned of “un­res­tric­ted Sec­tion 8 hous­ing on Holme Av­en­ue” and linked the loc­al state rep­res­ent­at­ive, Ed Neilson, to the pro­ject.

The leaf­lets were wrong. Neilson op­poses the pro­ject and on Jan. 15 wrote a let­ter to the Pennsylvania Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency sid­ing with neigh­bors. Fur­ther­more, the con­vent site, 2723 Holme Ave., isn’t even in his dis­trict.

Mean­while, the Sec­tion 8 hous­ing threat seems more spec­u­la­tion than fore­gone con­clu­sion, as the rent sub­sidy pro­gram ap­plies to in­di­vidu­al ten­ants and has noth­ing to do with de­vel­op­ment fund­ing.

The HCCA, which in­stalled a new board of of­ficers on Nov. 28, said it did not know who had dis­trib­uted the rogue leaf­lets. 

“We are not re­spons­ible for send­ing this out, nor do we know who sent this out to homes in our neigh­bor­hood,” HCCA pres­id­ent Elsie Stevens said after she read aloud from one of the fli­ers.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we can’t con­trol what we be­lieve to be polit­ic­al smear tac­tics to hurt Rep­res­ent­at­ive Ed Neilson,” said Bri­an Ed­dis, Neilson’s chief of staff.

Stevens said that the civic as­so­ci­ation de­livered more than 1,000 le­git­im­ate no­tices door-to-door lead­ing up to the meet­ing, the first since the new board took con­trol. Those leaf­lets fea­tured the civic group’s name in bold let­ter­ing and prom­ised a dis­cus­sion of the con­vent re­devel­op­ment plan, along with oth­er agenda items.

However, neither the de­veloper, 1260 Hous­ing Corp., nor a rep­res­ent­at­ive for the con­vent’s cur­rent own­er, the Sis­ters of the Holy Fam­ily of Naz­areth, were on the agenda. Rep­res­ent­at­ives for the de­veloper did in fact at­tend the civic group’s Nov. 28 meet­ing to ad­dress ques­tions.

The HCCA did not hold a pub­lic meet­ing in Decem­ber.

In the mean­time, nu­mer­ous com­munity groups and elec­ted of­fi­cials have gone on re­cord in op­pos­i­tion to the plan, in­clud­ing the Holme Circle, Rhawn Gar­dens, Winchester Park and Ashton Square civics, as well as Neilson, state Reps. Kev­in Boyle and John Sabat­ina and state Sen. Mike Stack.

The pro­ject site is with­in Stack’s and Boyle’s dis­tricts, with the bound­ar­ies of Neilson’s and Sabat­ina’s dis­tricts mere blocks away.

The con­vent is ad­ja­cent to Naz­areth Hos­pit­al, which was foun­ded by the Sis­ters of the Holy Fam­ily of Naz­areth but is now op­er­ated by the Con­sho­hock­en-based Mercy Health Sys­tem. Mercy has not taken a form­al po­s­i­tion on the de­vel­op­ment plan.

Stevens said on Wed­nes­day that her group is primar­ily op­posed to am­bi­gu­ity in the de­veloper’s pro­pos­al. In seek­ing fund­ing for the $11 mil­lion pro­ject, the de­veloper re­por­ted to the Pennsylvania Hous­ing Fin­ance Agency that the 45,399-square-foot build­ing would be con­ver­ted in­to “44 one-bed­room units for low-in­come per­sons,” 23 of which would be “tar­geted to low-in­come vet­er­ans.”

However, the de­veloper can­not guar­an­tee that vet­er­ans would end up in the build­ing. Fur­ther, the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity — the city’s pub­lic hous­ing agency — will sup­ply “an op­er­at­ing sub­sidy for 23 units in the pro­ject” an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the plan.

The civic group has pro­posed lim­it­ing oc­cu­pancy to seni­or cit­izens, whom neigh­bors gen­er­ally view as less in­trus­ive and less threat­en­ing to the neigh­bor­hood.

Civic group lead­ers said the PHFA is not ex­pec­ted to de­cide on the de­veloper’s fund­ing ap­plic­a­tion be­fore March 14. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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