The following editorial was published on Wednesday,
July 15 in the Philadelphia Inquirer
One of the Philadelphia Housing Authority's most distressed
developments is the Norman Blumberg Apartments ("Blumberg"). It is
a dense eight-acre site, with 510 units in three high-rise towers
and 18 low-rise buildings. It is located in the Sharswood/Blumberg
section of North Philadelphia, where, more than 50 years ago, race
riots destroyed what was once a vibrant community.
Closed factories, substandard housing, high unemployment,
neglected schools, racial profiling, and incidents of police
brutality all describe that neighborhood now. While the city's
poverty rate is over 26 percent, Blumberg's is nearly 63 percent.
The crime rate is double that of the city's. Only 16 percent of
Blumberg residents are employed, and 33 percent of residents above
the age of 18 do not have a high school diploma.
By almost any measure, Blumberg/Sharswood is a top contender for
Philadelphia's worst community.
This is a description from the Daily News last summer:
"[After the riots], dozens of stores and small businesses - most
white-owned - . . . boarded up, ... leaving holes that still
"[B]uildings with rusted-out tin facades and plywood windows
alternate like moldy chess pieces with weedy green patches of
grass; on 22nd, the front door of an empty building throws wide
open to a room littered with food cartons and trash; a ... man
nearby sunk into a folding chair asks a stranger to buy him a soda.
It is impossible not to think: What the hell happened here?"
I asked myself the same question when I first saw the area about
three years ago, as president and CEO of PHA. But I also believed
that this desperation had to change and PHA had to act.
Therefore, PHA created the Sharswood/Blumberg Redevelopment
Initiative, its single most important transformative project in
more than a decade. It involves demolishing the Blumberg towers,
assembling parcels for redevelopment, igniting private investment,
and rebuilding all four pillars of community revitalization:
housing, education, economic development, and social services.
Critics say in response to the plan that PHA is concentrating
poverty. Instead, it should should just remove the Blumberg
high-rises and then shoo its existing residents away with vouchers,
letting the private market step in. Others worry that
gentrification will result from the planned improvements. Here's
what those critics are missing: PHA plans to invest in improving
the community, something no one else has done in more than 50
years, by focusing on three priorities:
- Deconcentrate poverty by demolishing and replacing every
Blumberg unit with less-dense affordable housing.
- Acquire more than 1,300 unproductive properties (mainly vacant
lots from the demolition of abandoned row homes) for new housing
for families of all incomes, and have private developers involved
in rebuilding the neighborhood.
- Act to have plans become realities. PHA applied for demolition
approval; applied for 9 percent low-income-housing tax credits to
build 57 new affordable housing units; applied for new federal
funding for 96 senior units; and started design of PHA's
consolidated central office to be located in the community.
Success will be aided by the fact that where PHA reinvests, the
private market follows and the ripple effects show extensive
benefits. A December Econsult report on the economic impact of
PHA's housing redevelopment estimated it to be "$1.2 billion,
supporting 7,800 jobs with earnings of $520 million. ... The
potential annual economic impact in the commonwealth is an
estimated $43 million, with $40 million occurring in Philadelphia.
This will support an estimated 520 jobs annually in the city, with
earnings of $20 million."
Further, surrounding property values should increase by 5 to 15
percent, with "a potential additional $640,000 to $1.9 million in
property tax revenues to the city of Philadelphia and $790,000 to
$2.4 million to the School District of Philadelphia annually."
PHA's aim is to provide a neighborhood of choice for all and to
ensure that low-income residents, as well as their neighbors,
benefit from improved schools, businesses, and commercial zones in
a flourishing community. We will continue to seek public-private
partnerships and coordinate with federal, state, and city
governments. We appreciate the support of Mayor Nutter, Council
President Darrell Clarke, and other elected officials and community
leaders who are helping us create a community of which we can all
Kelvin A. Jeremiah
President & CEO
Philadelphia Housing Authority