N. Broad corridor gains new low-income rental development

The JBJ Soul Homes groundbreaking at the intersection of Fairmount and Ridge Avenues on November 13, 2012.( Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer )
The JBJ Soul Homes groundbreaking at the intersection of Fairmount and Ridge Avenues on November 13, 2012.( Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer )
Posted: November 15, 2012

The revival of the North Broad Street corridor got a major boost Tuesday with the official launch of a $16 million, 55-unit rental housing development.

But unlike most of the high-end projects in the fast-changing Francisville neighborhood, JBJ Soul Homes will cater to low-income families and individuals trying to escape homelessness.

The project is a collaboration, led by Project HOME and the Greater Exodus Baptist Church and funded, in part, by a foundation run by the rock musician Jon Bon Jovi.

Bon Jovi provided star power at the launch, attended by more than 200 people under a tent pitched on Fairmount Avenue.

"We live in a time when we can't rely on just the government or the private sector alone," Bon Jovi said. "But these collaborations are so important, especially when the country is so polarized."

The Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II said Project HOME approached his church three years ago about developing the triangular property where Ridge and Fairmount Avenues cross Broad Street.

Over a decade, he said, church members spent about $600,000 acquiring all the derelict houses on the block, which were then demolished to create 1.8 acres of open space.

He said the members of his congregation had thought about following the real estate trade winds in the neighborhood and building high-end condominiums.

In recent years, developers have been converting old factories and offices on North Broad into loft apartments. Most recently, the eyesore Divine Lorraine Hotel was sold and slated for renovation into apartments.

But the cofounders of Project HOME - Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon - persuaded Lusk and his congregation to join their effort.

"I had to make a decision to make more money or to serve the people who need it most," Lusk said. Of the decision, he said, "We have to provide for ourselves. No one else will do it."

Project HOME will set aside 40 of the 55 affordable rental units in the four-story building for housing homeless individuals. A nonprofit affiliate of Greater Exodus will operate 12,000 square feet of ground-floor retailing in the building.

Funding for the project came from a broad number of public sources and private donations, most notably Bon Jovi's foundation and the Middleton family of Philadelphia.

Leigh and John Middleton, who run a charitable housing initiative called the Middleton Partnership, have committed a total of $15 million to Project HOME to use for eliminating street homelessness in Philadelphia.

As part of that pledge, the family last year made an undisclosed contribution to Project HOME to renovate an empty apartment house at 21st and Venango Streets into the James Widener Ray Homes.

With the JBJ Soul Homes under way, the Middletons also plan to back Project HOME on a 94-unit rental project at 810 Arch St. that will be developed in conjunction with the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp.

Mayor Nutter has vowed to make Philadelphia the first major city in the country to end homelessness. Project HOME is building credibility that the goal is within reach, said John Middleton, a limited partner in the Phillies.

"People will begin to believe we can solve this problem," he said.

About 600 people survive on the streets of Philadelphia, with about 3,000 others living in shelters.

JBJ Soul Homes is expected to be completed by next fall.

Contact Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @j_linq.

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