City gets $500,000 from HUD for North Phila. project

Kelvin Jeremiah (right), executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
Kelvin Jeremiah (right), executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 24, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Standing in the courtyard of the Blumberg public housing project, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said Friday that this neglected corner of North Philadelphia should be "defined by its potential, not its problems."

To help realize that, the HUD chief announced a $500,000 grant to the city's housing authority to plan a top-to-bottom revitalization of the neighborhood.

The area around Blumberg, at 23d and Jefferson Streets, suffers from a violent crime rate that is twice the rate of the rest of the city. Blocks are scarred with boarded-up homes and vacant land, much owned by public agencies.

Flanked by Mayor Nutter, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, Donovan said a plan for Blumberg would "lay the foundation for healthy, long-term development."

Philadelphia was one of nine cities to receive a total of $4.4 million from HUD under the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants program.

Donovan said the competition was stiff, with only one in five applicants receiving grants. He said this marked an important turning point for PHA. In March 2011, HUD took control of the authority after the firing of Executive Director Carl R. Greene. The agency returned PHA to local control this year.

"We took unprecedented aggressive action" in replacing the management and board of PHA, Donovan said. "Overall, I feel PHA has moved a long way."

The Choice Neighborhoods program is designed to bring together private and public stakeholders to jointly address issues of housing, commercial development, public safety, and early-childhood development.

As the leader of the process, the Philadelphia Housing Authority will also seek community input in developing a plan.

Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA's president, has made redevelopment of Blumberg a priority. The master plan would cover an area from Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the north, South College Avenue and Poplar Street to the south, 20th Street to the east, and 27th Street to the west.

The Blumberg development, opened in 1967, houses more than 500 families in three high-rises, plus barracks-style apartments.

The community "has been a neglected part of the city," Jeremiah said. "PHA has made a commitment to revitalize this community, but we cannot do it alone."

The authority already is moving forward with construction of 55 units of housing on vacant land, Jeremiah said.

Many of the empty lots and blighted buildings around the Blumberg apartments are controlled by public agencies. Recently, the School District of Philadelphia shuttered two schools in the area.

Clarke said he had gotten a few "expressions of interests" in the schools from charter operators, but "it is contingent on the development of Blumberg."

Nutter and Clarke pledged to convey city land for the redevelopment.

"We want to get this property out of our inventory as quickly as possible," Nutter said. "We don't need all this land."

Fattah said the fact that so much land around Blumberg was in public hands was "a good thing."

"We won't get hung up with site-control issues," he said. "We want Philadelphia to have a plan that's ready to go."

jlin@phillynews.com215-854-5659 @j_linq

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