Strawberry Mansion on deck for new affordable housing

MAURICE BROWNE / PHA Groundbreaking last week for the Oakdale Street Apartments.
MAURICE BROWNE / PHA Groundbreaking last week for the Oakdale Street Apartments.
Posted: August 19, 2014

STRAWBERRY Mansion residents will be the benefactors of three Philadelphia Housing Authority projects within 24 months.

The neighbors say they want and need the housing but they want to make sure they have a say in how it's done.

City officials broke ground on the first development Tuesday: the Oakdale Street Apartments, on a longtime vacant lot in the north end of Strawberry Mansion. Twelve units will be built on Oakdale Street near 28th, across from the Widener Library. The three developments will result in a total investment of about $30 million.

City Council President Darrell Clarke, PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah and nearly a dozen others pitched their shovels in the dirt and gave it a toss Tuesday, ceremonially ringing in the start of the undertaking.

Early on, a 12-member task force was assembled with the intent of having full community involvement and participation in the awarding of contracts for the job, from initial construction to plumbing to painting and all the way down.

Dale Corp., a construction-management firm based in Glenside, Montgomery County, was the lowest and most qualified bidder, Jeremiah said. Dale will oversee the project's development, but some members of the task force - half PHA and City Council staff and half neighborhood residents - are skeptical about whether their voices are being heard.

"The approach on this one could have been better," said Tonnetta Graham, of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corp.

"You have to remember that this is a very old community and a lot of our residents have something to say about what happens."

Kevin Lumpkin, a member of the task force, said he's seen a trend in how PHA awards contracts.

"The way they include African-Americans on projects is very poor," Lumpkin said. "That's the problem you have with the city of Philadelphia across the construction industry . . . This process has been going on for close to 40 years."

Jeremiah said he stands by the contracting process.

"No one gets a priority on contracting," he said. "It's not because of who you know. It's not because of the access you think you have and it's certainly not because you screamed the loudest. It's a fair, open and transparent process."

This will be the first new construction project in the area in several years, said Clarke, whose district includes Strawberry Mansion. He agreed with Jeremiah that the bidding process is fair.

"There are stringent requirements that the housing authority has to adhere to as it relates to contractor-selection guidelines with respect to hiring locally," he said. "I think we have quite aggressive numbers as it relates to participation from the neighborhood and from minority contractors. The numbers will speak for themselves."

PHA's next steps are selecting general contractors and subcontractors. Jeremiah said those decisions would be made soon.

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