11 new homes may be start to stabilizing Point Breeze

Claudia McClendon parks her bike
Claudia McClendon parks her bike (in what will be her new neighborhood on Federal Street between 16th and 17th Streets in the Point Breeze section. She closes on her townhouse Friday. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 28, 2012

Claudia McClendon is pedaling her bike up Federal Street to 16th, hoping not to be late for what she considers one of the most important events of her life.

This life-changing event: Homeownership.

The Indonesian-born McClendon and her husband, Dale, will close Friday on one of the 11 new houses built on what had been two vacant lots in the 1600 block of Federal in Point Breeze.

But this was Wednesday, when McClendon arrived in time for ceremonies to dedicate the houses, financed by a federal program to stabilize neighborhoods hard-hit by foreclosures.

The houses are a product of a partnership between affordable-housing developer Community Ventures and the South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. community organization.

This is not an effort to bring well-heeled buyers into a less-expensive neighborhood on the edge of a gentrified one, as in nearby areas of Center City and South Philadelphia.

Instead, this cluster of 11 townhouses, and eight others scattered on infill sites around Point Breeze, is, in the words of one official, "an opportunity to offer quality affordable homes to keep families in this neighborhood together."

Five of the 11 two- to four-bedroom, one- and 2 1/2-bath energy-efficient townhouses have been sold to current and former Point Breeze residents.

"I can't begin to tell you what this means," said Claudia Sherrod, the H.O.M.E.S. chairwoman, who has been involved in building and rehabbing houses in the neighborhood for 40 years.

Despite having to struggle to secure financing and political support for its efforts, the group has reaped dividends for its persistence.

"Three years ago [former Councilwoman] Anna Verna said, 'Do it,' and a year ago, Councilman [Kenyatta] Johnson said it was going to happen," Sherrod said. "And now, a year after the groundbreaking, these houses are ready, and we are looking at today as a first step toward more houses to come."

The city provided $3.8 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds it received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to finance development of the houses, and donated the land on which the houses were built.

The rest of the $5.7 million development budget will be funded by the sale of the houses, which start at $125,000.

In the last 20 years, 500 units of affordable for-sale, rental, senior, and special-needs housing have been built or rehabbed in Point Breeze through the efforts of community organizations as well as Kenny Gamble's Universal Community Homes.

"This is a fascinating slice of a neighborhood in transition," said Terry Gillen, now Mayor Nutter's director of federal affairs, who pushed the stabilization program as executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

"You can see how change is moving west, street by street, from Broad toward 17th," she said. "Efforts such as this will continue that movement."

Had the city not donated the land, building the houses would have been much tougher, said David LaFontaine, program director for Community Ventures, the nonprofit developer that cut its first teeth in the Francisville neighborhood, building 208 houses in collaboration with community groups there.

"Federal regulations require that the houses be sold at market value, which is $280,000," LaFontaine said. "This is tough to do because these houses have to be affordable, so we have to find a way to get the price down to $150,000," which means subsidies.

McClendon is a certified nursing assistant who has jobs at assisted-care facilities in Center City and Cherry Hill, and works at Iovine's at the Reading Terminal Market.

"I wanted a home for my children," Sean, 8, and Sophia, 6, she said as she unwrapped a throw rug for the first-floor bathroom. "I was riding my bike, and I saw these houses and called Community Ventures and asked how I could get one."

McClendon's husband, a Cheltenham native, works as a clerk in the city Department of Revenue.

Claudia McClendon agreed with Gillen that the neighborhood seems to be on its way up.

"So far, from what I've seen, it is getting better," she said. "It is such a good deal, I tell everyone I know that they should come here, too."


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheaven at Twitter.

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