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.”