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 firstname.lastname@example.org