Choice Neighborhoods – North Central 2013

Executive Summary

Building on a multi-year, collaborative planning process involving hundreds of community residents and other stakeholders, the City of Philadelphia has prepared this Transformation Plan and Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) funding proposal for the North Central Philadelphia neighborhood. The requested $30 million in CNI funding will leverage greater than $125 million in additional funding and, over the long term, is projected to generate substantial additional private investment. The Plan’s vision and strategies have been developed in response to documented community needs and priorities. The target area encompasses approximately a half square mile bounded by York Avenue to the north, 6th Street and Germantown Avenue to the east, Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the south, and North Carlisle Street and North 16th Street to the west. It includes the distressed Norris Apartments low-rise public housing development. The neighborhood, home to Temple University and situated less than two miles from Center City, was once an industrial powerhouse – bustling with warehouses and manufacturers such as Stetson Hat and Good and Plenty Candy. Hundreds of row-homes and commercial spaces were constructed to house and service the growing, diverse worker population. Until the 1960s, it thrived with commercial districts and arts venues. Eventually, suburbanization, ill-conceived urban renewal projects and the collapse of the regional manufacturing industry left the neighborhood filled with abandoned homes and factories, high rates of vacant, underutilized land, and a population mired in poverty.

Starting in the 1990s, the renaissance of North Central Philadelphia slowly began to take shape, driven by divergent factors, including: the intensive efforts of local non-profits to reclaim and productively use vacant land; new private and publicly sponsored development activity along the Avenue of the Arts North (Broad Street) cultural corridor; heightened interest in the area by young professionals moving from the high cost Center City area; and, Temple’s evolution from a commuter to largely residential campus. The demolition of the distressed Norris Apartments high-rise in 2011 and the re-occupancy of newly developed replacement housing was another milestone in the community’s revival. The recently completed Paseo Verde mixed-income development and the new Mosaic rental development provide further evidence of the neighborhood’s re-emergence. While signs of progress abound, much remains to be done to create a well-functioning, healthy neighborhood. Over 1400 vacant and blighted properties encourage crime and inhibit private investment. This is further compounded by a 26.4% residential vacancy rate and a 64.7% poverty rate -both substantially higher than citywide averages. The Norris low-rise public housing development continues to be a potent symbol of distress. Other ongoing challenges include high crime rates, low performing schools, lack of jobs and services, and a perception that the area is in a state of decline.

Using a structured Partnership Agreement framework that defines the roles and responsibilities of the implementation entities and Principal Education Partner, the City of Philadelphia, through the Office of Housing & Community Development (OHCD) will serve as the Lead Applicant, responsible for overseeing and coordinating all Plan activities and partners. In this role, OHCD will direct all activities in support of the Plan’s vision, which is to build on existing neighborhood assets, encourage new private investment and transform North Central into a safe, stable and sustainable community that has a mix of affordable and market rate housing options, and that connects residents to each other and to their neighborhood, downtown and regional opportunities, jobs and assets.

OHCD will also serve as the Neighborhood Implementation Entity, overseeing a highly focused set of neighborhood improvements designed to: encourage new private investments in mixed-income housing; repurpose vacant lots into productive uses; improve housing conditions for existing low-income homeowners; provide job training and placement services through a new Workforce Development Center; revitalize the Germantown Avenue commercial corridor; improve environmental sustainability; improve community safety through targeted streetscape and lighting improvements; and, other initiatives described below. The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will serve as Co-Applicant and as Housing Implementation Entity, overseeing the construction of 297 units of mixed income rental and homeownership housing using a Transit-Oriented Development model. The building program will involve demolition of the Norris low-rise target public housing site, including building 147 replacement units at on and off-site locations. New housing development will be targeted to reinforce overall neighborhood goals and maximize the positive impact on currently blighted blocks. The proposal includes an application for 145 vouchers to support relocation needs of existing residents. Asociacion de Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM), will be the Lead People Implementation Entity, coordinating comprehensive efforts to improve the quality of life for existing and new residents, through programs and services to promote health, safety, employment, and education. Working with PHA, APM will provide training from the new Workforce facility that focuses on health-care related jobs training. APM will work closely with the Philadelphia School District and Temple University, the neighborhood’s Anchor Institution and Lead Educational Partner, to provide quality early learning programs, improve educational attainment and increase graduation rates for local youth. Extensive early childhood education, creative curriculum, mentoring and other youth development initiatives are planned. All of the key strategies included in the Transformation Plan are quantifiable, evidenced-based and outcome oriented. Formal evaluation and ongoing community feedback mechanisms have been incorporated into the work plan.


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