Neighbors still oppose Gaudenzia House development

Gaudenzia Inc., the drug rehabilitation services company, is moving ahead with renovations to the blighted Shelton Court apartment building on North Broad Street.  They intend to create 20 transitional living units for women in recovery and their children.

While work moves forward at the 6433 N. Broad Street site in East Oak Lane, some area residents are still opposed to the plan. They’ve held protests to voice concerns about bringing what they say is another social-services facility to the neighborhood, and worry that living near a well-known drug corner and close to a local bar could put residents at risk of relapse.

It is not a “halfway house,” Gaudenzia officials say, because residents work and go to school on their own, pay their own bills, care for their children and have privacy in their apartments. The $7 million Shelton Court apartment will offer no clinical treatment facilities  or “rehab” services.  Women living at Shelton Court will have already gone through in-patient residential treatment, outpatient counseling, and will have been sober for an average of two years before being considered for an apartment.

As a sober-living building, however, residents are subject to drug testing and apartment unit inspections. They can be sent back to in-patient treatment or moved to a different Gaudenzia facility if they relapse. Tenants pay rent equal to 30 percent of their income, but living costs are subsidized, and the building is not open to public rental.

Neighbors say those characteristics — along with the millions in public money the project has received — make it a service facility, not a true low-income housing solution, as Gaudenzia has described the project on grant and loan applications.

Through the city’s Redevelopment Authority and using HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program money, the project received a $232,500 preconstruction grant, part of an overall anticipated $4,500,00 in public funding for Shelton Court, according to documents.

“The community still doesn’t want it in the neighborhood,” said David Weston, president of Oak Lane Community Action Association. Though civic groups met with Gaudenzia to discuss the project early on, Weston said neighbors feel their concerns weren’t addressed and said City Councilwoman Marian Tasco never fully engaged the community in the process.

“The people who will live there aren’t the problem, it’s how they did the facility,” Weston said. He said the community asked for Gaudenzia workers to be placed on site around-the-clock, but plans are for workers to be in the building only during business hours.

The independent transitional living idea is a relatively new one for Gaudenzia.  The company has only recently begun developing housing for those coming out of their of treatment centers. Shelton Court will be modeled on Gaudenzia’s first Philadelphia location, the Tioga Arms at 1828 W. Tioga St., built from what had been a similarly abject address.

That project, too, received public financing. Gaudenzia newsletters show Councilwoman Donna Reed-Miller presenting the company with a $2.7 million check toward Tioga Arms construction.

Now in its sixth year, Tioga Arms currently houses 22 women and 35 kids. The residents also receive career counseling, parenting skills workshops, and attend group 12-step meetings, said Toni Montier, Gaudenzia’s Eastern Region Housing Director.

For some residents, the average stay of three years is a chance to build an independent lifestyle again after years lost to addiction. For others, Montier said, it’s the first stable home they have known.

On a recent week day, the building was spotless and quiet, a place that felt secure in a challenged neighborhood. Across the street, a block of row of houses are in transition, too — one resident pointed out houses on the block that had been rehabbed in the time since Tioga Arms opened, and others that were under construction.

Inside, many of the women were at work, others meeting with Gaudenzia staff members who are on site during the day.

Audrey T. was fine-tuning her resume with a career counselor, as she looks for a job in the construction trades. LaShanda E. sat with a site manager, catching her up on her young daughter’s latest accomplishments and the progress of her own GED pursuit.

In her two-bedroom apartment, Danielle K. was getting ready to go to her job at a Gaudenzia office in Norristown, but took a few minutes to show visitors photos of her son, Raymond. She talked about having first tried to get sober alone, but relapsing when Raymond was a toddler.

They’ve lived at Tioga Arms for almost three years and Danielle, 37, said having the apartment and the support of the fellow residents has been good for both her and her son. She’s taking night classes in addiction counseling studies and Raymond is in kindergarten. “We’re really doing this together”,  she said.

Like the Shelton Court location, there are drug houses near Tioga Arms and over the years, some residents have relapsed. That’s a concern for neighbors in East Oak Lane.

“The issue is that they’re putting these recovering people in an environment where less than 500 feet away they’re selling beer, and less than 1,000 feet away it’s drugs,” Weston said. “We feel like it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter.”

Montier said as a recovering addict herself she understands the concerns about putting residents in a neighborhood where temptations are all around but said just as an addict can find drugs anywhere, a person seeking sobriety can find that anywhere, too.

“What I know personally about recovery is that you can get sober at a crack house if you are ready to get sober,” Montier said.

In the last year, six families have left Tioga Arms. Two moved into Section 8 housing and four into apartments they secured on their own. The company plans to buy an adjacent open lot, to build a child care and early-education facility for residents’ kids.

The influx of children is a particular concern to East Oak Lane neighbors, who wonder about the potential impact on Elwood Elementary School and express safety concerns.

“Where are these kids going to play,” Weston wondered. “There are not enough rec facilities in our neighborhood, and on Broad Street, where are they going to play? They can’t play out on Broad Street, and there’s no backyard [at Shelton Court].”

 

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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