Neighbors worry improvements will only benefit landlords

North Philadelphia residents (from left) Tarik Nasir, Henry Nicholas, Vivian Van Story and Curtis Brown are members of the Community Land Trust Corp. They are fighting a proposal by Council President Darrell Clark (top) to set up a Neighborhood Improvement District.
North Philadelphia residents (from left) Tarik Nasir, Henry Nicholas, Vivian Van Story and Curtis Brown are members of the Community Land Trust Corp. They are fighting a proposal by Council President Darrell Clark (top) to set up a Neighborhood Improvement District. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 12, 2012

FOR 10 YEARS, Tarik Nasir has worked as a real-estate "wholesaler," acquiring abandoned houses and lots in North Philadelphia and selling them to investors to convert into apartments for Temple University students.

But last week, Nasir, 37, stood with some longtime North Philadelphia residents at a tense community meeting at Temple's Ritter Hall and condemned a proposal by City Council President Darrell Clarke to create a Neighborhood Improvement District.

The opponents allege the proposed North Central Neighborhood Improvement District would turn control of the community over to landlords and Temple.

Nasir said putting the landlords in control of the district is akin to "putting the fox in charge of guarding the henhouse."

Community residents and developers are expected to turn out in force at a public hearing of Council's rules committee at City Hall tomorrow.

Clarke said he introduced the bill after listening to people complain for the past two years that developers were short-dumping construction debris on the streets and in vacant lots and students were partying and making loud noise into the wee hours.

"I thought the only way to fix these problems were to come up with a stream of revenue to help pay for additional cleaning and code enforcement," Clarke said.

Clarke said money from the NID will help the city enforce building codes.

But many longtime residents, most of them black, see the improvement district as a threat.

"I am an endangered species up there," said Henry Nicholas, president of 1199C, Hospital Workers Union. He lives on 15th Street near Jefferson.

"When I moved there in 1981, it was a thriving neighborhood. But they implemented eminent domain and took all the neighbors out."

At least one petition against the improvement district being circulated claims Temple and the landlords will control the NID "which will result in a 'Negro Removal District.' "

The opposition includes a long list of activists, clergy and business leaders.

Ken Scott, executive director of Beech Interplex - which has built student apartments in the area - said the North Philadelphia residents who have lived in the area for decades were left out of the process.

"We're not opposed to having clean streets," Scott said. "The question the residents are raising is that the area is being controlled by landlords for Temple and how do they [the community] know their interests are being represented?"

Clarke said controversial language that would have given most of the voting power to Temple and the landlords will be removed. He also said the additional 10 percent real-estate tax would only be imposed on owners of rental properties and businesses.

The Rev. William Moore, former president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, said he wasn't against student housing.

"But I'm against putting housing for students on every piece of vacant property that is now being bought up by developers and driving up the cost of land around my church at 19th and Master [streets].

"The average person, we cannot afford to buy a piece of property."

Herb Reid, a spokesman for the steering committee that supports the NID, said developers are simply trying to address concerns residents have voiced for years about the impact of the rush to build student housing: late-night parties and noise, trash put out on wrong days and dumping by developers.

Reid, whose company owns about 35 rental units, said he and others have helped clean the neighborhood. But he said there are other developers who "make us all look bad."

"We regret we didn't have more community involvement in our meetings," Reid said. "But this is a preliminary plan and out of the last two community meetings, we have already made changes."


Contact Valerie Russ at 215-854-5987 or russv@phillynews.com.

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