Philly in running for neighborhood improvement grant

Nilda Ruiz (right), president of Asociacion de Puertorriquenos en March, and Rose Gray, the group's senior vice president, in a lot at Eighth and Berks Streets where more housing is planned.
Nilda Ruiz (right), president of Asociacion de Puertorriquenos en March, and Rose Gray, the group's senior vice president, in a lot at Eighth and Berks Streets where more housing is planned. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 26, 2014

PHILADELPHIA At SEPTA's Temple University rail station, the rumble of trains fittingly drowned out Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. as he announced Monday that the city was in the running for a $30 million federal grant for neighborhood improvements.

The SEPTA viaduct presents both a real and symbolic barrier to opportunities in the blocks around Temple University.

To the west of the viaduct is the Temple economic juggernaut.

To the east is a struggling North Philadelphia neighborhood feeling the pressure of gentrification.

It's not a done deal, Casey said. But Philadelphia is one of six cities selected as a finalist for a "Choice Neighborhood" grant.

The Choice program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and would allow the Philadelphia Housing Authority to lead a coalition in redeveloping the neighborhood.

Casey said the plan for the area reflects "a local strategy and not something arrived at in Washington."

The centerpiece of the so-called North Central Philadelphia plan would be taking down PHA's barrack-style Norris Apartments and building 297 units of affordable and market-rate housing throughout the neighborhood.

On the site of the Norris Apartments, PHA would develop a mixed-income rental apartment complex, mirroring the Paseo Verde complex on the eastern side of the SEPTA viaduct.

That project was developed by the nonprofit Asociacion de Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM), which would also play a key role in the North Central plan. APM would focus on the delivery of better services to residents in the area.

Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA's chief executive, said HUD could decide in three to six months whether the North Central project would receive funding.

He said the key sponsors of the North Central plan - including PHA, the city's Office of Housing and Community Development, APM, and Temple University - worked closely with neighbors to develop a blueprint for revitalizing the neighborhood.

Each family currently living in the Norris Apartments will be guaranteed a place in new housing, Jeremiah said.

Of the $30 million, the city would spend $20 million on upgrading public housing. The rest would go for improved support services and educational opportunities for neighbors, as well as critical upgrades to commercial corridors and vacant land.

"It's about connections, leading residents to jobs, services and education," said Nilda Ruiz, president of APM.

Temple University, meanwhile, is committing $1 million to develop new neighborhood programs, including tutoring and career training.

The other cities vying for a HUD Choice Neighborhood grant are Pittsburgh, Columbus, Tulsa, Atlanta, and Norwalk, Conn.

Debra McCulloch, director of OHCD, was optimistic about Philadelphia's chances. She said that if the city was not selected, the redevelopment of the North Central area would proceed, but in a "piecemeal" fashion and at a slower pace.

"We could not proceed at this scale," she said.


jlin@phillynews.com

215-854-5659 @j_linq

www.inquirer.com/doubledown

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