Revitalizing A Community

The following editorial was published on Monday, October 27 in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The North Philadelphia neighborhood of Blumberg/Sharswood is one of the poorest and most neglected communities in our city. The low social-economic status of its families, the lack of schools, jobs, public safety, and quality housing, are all conditions resulting from decades of neglect.

The area's poverty rate has increased 8 percent since 2000, to the current 59 percent; the average household income is about $11,500 a year (compared with $60,000 as the approximate household median income for Philadelphia); there are 1,282 abandoned real-estate parcels, two neighborhood schools are closed, 31 percent of the population do not have a high school diploma, and 45 percent of the residents are 18 years old or younger.

Nearly a year ago, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) announced that the transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its number-one priority. A $500,000 Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development supported PHA's unprecedented revitalization initiative.

The magnitude of this project required that PHA leverage the federal funds with $700,000 from public/private partnerships. The planning grant, coupled with the award of $1.5 million in a community development block grant from the city and 9 percent low-income tax credits from the commonwealth, is making the first phase of Blumberg/Sharswood possible.

The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.

PHA's revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small-business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.

As president and CEO of PHA, I have ensured that the agency's budget allocation is a reflection of our ideas and values. In the coming years, PHA will invest more than $200 million and leverage an additional $250 million in public/private partnerships to transform the Blumberg/Sharswood community.

To accomplish all this, PHA has reformed its capital investment strategy, established a long list of public, private, and university partners, and reorganized its internal management of redevelopment projects. PHA has aligned its ideas, policy, and finances to be able to achieve its goal of transforming a targeted community.

Despite our city's successes over the past two decades, there is an affordable-housing crisis in Philadelphia and our schools are in a state of emergency. Quality housing, good schools, and a vibrant small-business economy only exist in a select number of neighborhoods, and the economics needed to access the prosperity of these neighborhoods is beyond the reach of most Philadelphians. Families cannot realize what I call the American promise, the opportunity to achieve long-term prosperity, because far too many are living in poverty and without the education and skills needed to succeed.

PHA has a twofold solution to this challenge.

First, the agency will build quality affordable housing in the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood. But the revitalization initiative is not only about providing housing; it is also about empowering residents. Therefore, the second part of the solution is providing residents with the means to become self-reliant, in a safe environment.

PHA is committed to raising residents' productivity and skills through links to education, job training, and placement; providing opportunities for families to become entrepreneurs; and addressing the crime and safety issues that have long plagued the community.

These opportunities for residents, along with quality affordable housing, will create a path to prosperity for individuals and families. This can be achieved through PHA's strong partnerships with public entities, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, universities, and the city. Our goal is to reconnect residents to good schools and economic opportunities, anchored by a safe and vibrant commercial corridor on Ridge Avenue that attracts and supports small business. In so doing, we will revive Blumberg/Sharswood by making it a neighborhood of choice where families can thrive.

PHA is making this investment in Blumberg/Sharswood now because, for too long, families in the community were told to wait. The wait is over, and today PHA, with its partners, will build a bridge of opportunity for social and economic prosperity.

Kelvin A. Jeremiah
President & CEO
Philadelphia Housing Authority´╗┐