Development may transform vacant Port Richmond block

Loc­al non­profit pro­poses a pro­ject that could res­ult in 36 homes for low-in­come renters by 2016.

  • The proposed Grace Townhomes development, designed by Kramer + Marks Architects, would bring 36 homes for low-income renters to Auburn Street in Port Richmond. PHOTO COURTESY OF KRAMER + MARKS ARCHITECTS

  • The block where the development would be built has been vacant for decades. PHOTO COURTESY OF Kramer + Marks Architects

At a meet­ing Thursday even­ing, the Port Rich­mond Com­munity Group voted 18-5 in sup­port of a pro­posed de­vel­op­ment that would turn a va­cant block in­to 36 new homes.

Phil­adelphia’s Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ments will take the group’s let­ter of sup­port un­der ad­vise­ment at a pub­lic hear­ing on Wed­nes­day, Feb. 12 at 2 p.m., when it votes on wheth­er to ap­prove the zon­ing change that would al­low the de­vel­op­ment to move for­ward.

The block, which is bound by Au­burn Street, Trenton Av­en­ue, Wil­li­am Street and Jan­ney Street in Port Rich­mond, has been va­cant for dec­ades. Un­der the de­vel­op­ment, which has been pro­posed by the non­profit Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject, it would be­come 36 homes for low-in­come renters by early 2016.

“This de­vel­op­ment takes a blighted prop­erty and puts it back in­to good use, provid­ing homes for 36 fam­il­ies,” said Paul Ayles­worth, de­vel­op­ment team co­ordin­at­or for the Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject, in a phone in­ter­view last Wed­nes­day.

The Rev. Richard A. Har­ris of Firm Hope Baptist Church, which is just a few blocks from the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment, has worked with the non­profit since 2011 to bring the pro­ject to fruition.

“That block has been noth­ing but an eye­sore for a long, long time,” he said in a phone in­ter­view Sat­urday. “This de­vel­op­ment would give people an op­por­tun­ity to live in brand new home at af­ford­able rents.

“It would also give a gen­er­a­tion a re­newed sense of hope, that even if they don’t move out of the neigh­bor­hood, they can have a de­cent, af­ford­able place to live with­in the com­munity.”

The de­vel­op­ment would com­prise 20 town­homes and 16 apart­ments, with a mix­ture of two, three or four bed­rooms, and a com­munity cen­ter that res­id­ents and oth­er neigh­bors can book for gath­er­ings, Ayles­worth said at the meet­ing.

There would be a park­ing lot with 34 spots in the court­yard in the cen­ter of the block. The build­ings would be two and three stor­ies tall with ma­sonry and fiber ce­ment sid­ing on the ex­ter­i­or.

Rents would range from $450 to $700 per month, which is be­low mar­ket rate, Ayels­worth said, and fur­ther sub­sidies will be giv­en to fam­il­ies earn­ing less than $20,000 per year.

Po­ten­tial renters would have to meet in­come guidelines to ap­ply to live there; for ex­ample, a fam­ily of four would have to earn less than $47,000 per year to qual­i­fy, he said.

“The city av­er­age for the same house­hold size is about $36,000 and the neigh­bor­hood av­er­age right around there is about $26,000,” he said at the meet­ing. “So it’s with­in the range of what people are ac­tu­ally mak­ing around there.”

After the meet­ing, two men said they were wor­ried that hous­ing for low-in­come res­id­ents from oth­er neigh­bor­hoods would bring vi­ol­ence.

“The thing is, cul­tur­ally, when you put up a hous­ing pro­ject like that it brings vi­ol­ence,” said Maurice Camp­bell, 47, of Port Rich­mond.

“Any­time you see a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, it takes over the whole neigh­bor­hood. It’s like a neigh­bor­hood in­side a neigh­bor­hood. So we’re say­ing we’re in fa­vor of mixed-in­come houses and homes but not low-in­come homes. It was al­ways a mixed in­come neigh­bor­hood.”

Nora Lichtash, the dir­ect­or of the Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject, said that the group’s rig­or­ous screen­ing pro­cess for ten­ants would pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.

“We usu­ally have a lot more ap­plic­ants than we have houses to rent,” she said at the meet­ing, “so we get to pick the best ap­plic­ants.”

There’s a cred­it check, a crim­in­al check, a home vis­it and an in­ter­view, she said.

“Our ten­ants are very mo­tiv­ated to be good ten­ants; they’re strong fam­il­ies,” she said in a phone in­ter­view Sat­urday. “They want hous­ing that’s af­ford­able so they can move on and in­crease their eco­nom­ic status. … They cer­tainly don’t break the law. If they did, they would be evicted im­me­di­ately.”

The Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject has de­veloped 250 homes in the city over about 25 years, Ayles­worth said at the meet­ing.

Some of their oth­er de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing the John­nie Till­mon Town­houses at N. 4th Street and W. Mas­ter Street in South Kens­ing­ton, have helped sur­round­ing prop­erty val­ues to rise over the years, he said.

“This is one of those oth­er things that helps, to take a va­cant space that’s bring­ing down the com­munity and sta­bil­ize it,” he said. “Over time, it helps prop­erty val­ues to ap­pre­ci­ate.”

Theresa Cos­tello, pres­id­ent of the Port Rich­mond Com­munity Group, said: “I’m just look­ing at that [ren­der­ing] and that looks bet­ter than what’s there at the mo­ment. … The pic­ture that they’re present­ing seems kinda pretty; it ac­tu­ally might be at­tract­ive to people, or at least more at­tract­ive than a lot with trash.”

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