New $, new hope for N. Phila.

Posted: July 02, 2014

FOR 30 YEARS, Jo-Rhodie Smith, a retired dietitian's assistant, has lived in Norris Apartments, a public-housing project near Temple University in North Philadelphia.

A few years ago, after the high-rise building across the street was torn down in Phase I of the renovation of Norris Homes, Smith said very few of the people there were able to return to the townhouse-style apartments at 11th and Norris streets that rose in its place.

So Smith was a bit hesitant yesterday when Mayor Nutter, Housing and Urban Development official Jemine Bryon and a slew of other officials stood a few steps from her front door and announced that Philadelphia had won a $30 million HUD "Choice Neighborhood" grant to revitalize a half-mile-square area around Norris.

The grant will tear down Norris Apartments and replace the homes with mixed-use public housing.

"There were people who left out of the high-rise building and some of them never came back," said Smith, 73. "So I was just a little leery about it."

Nutter said the grant represents a commitment that the people who currently live in Norris Apartments will get to live in the new, rebuilt homes.

But current residents must be up-to-date on their rent.

The city's Office of Housing and Community Development and the Philadelphia Housing Authority applied jointly for the grant.

In addition, $125 million more is planned from city, state and private sources to support the revitalization plan for the area bounded by York Street to the north, 6th Street and Germantown Avenue to the east, Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the south, and Carlisle and 16th streets to the west.

In addition to the 147 new and refurbished units at Norris Apartments, the plan calls for 180 units of affordable and market-rate housing on several blocks with vacant lots. There are also plans for greening some vacant lots.

Donna Richardson, president of the Norris Apartments Tenant Council, said residents are thrilled.

"I'm excited," said Kesha Brown, 33, a mother of three who works as a receptionist. "We need it, especially for the children around here. We need a safer environment for our kids."

Richardson said a number of Norris residents already take part in job-training programs through PHA and Temple. The new funding means increased job training for area residents.

Some tenants also are involved in financial-literacy and credit-improvement programs through the Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha.

APM is a partner in the project and will provide social services to temporarily relocate residents and help them move back in.

Nutter has said that the new housing will result in 600 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. But some men at the news conference said they had been unable to find work at other construction sites around Temple.

The grant includes a program for APM and Youth Build to work with young people to become college- and career-ready.

Nutter said the federal grant would help one of the poorest areas of the city, with "an unemployment rate triple the city average and a poverty rate double the city average."

Later, three-decade resident Smith perked up. "It may be real this time," she said. "It sounds like a beautiful thing."

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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