Blight goes green on Greene St.

Bernard Hawkins walked past the dilapidated house at 4620 Greene Street everyday on his way to work.  Abandoned for 20 years, he saw it as a drain on the neighborhood.


It was ironic, and probably frustrating, especially because Hawkins is in the business of turning around houses like this. He is the executive director for Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services, a Center City-based CDC focussed on affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization.


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For most of the time since 1995 this vacant Germantown home has been controlled by the city, according to the Board of Revision of Taxes, and it took the last three years for PNHS to get ahold of the title so it could do something good with the property.


And that good it about to begin. Tuesday morning Hawkins stood with officials from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, YouthBuild USA and the world’s largest building materials company, Saint-Gobain to announce a bright future for that long decaying eyesore.


Hundreds gathered on its front lawn Dec. 14th – neighbors, students, business owners and public officials – to launch a green housing renovation project and a national partnership. Saint-Gobain will provide a three-year, $550,000 grant to YouthBuild USA and its Green Initiative program.


YouthBuild students will do green home rehabilitations in four cities while they get their high school diplomas and obtain green building certifications.


And the first rehabilitation will be right here in Germantown.  Expected to be completed by the summer of 2011, it will be an owner occupied duplex for low-income families.


It will also be the greenest house on the block.


“Private, non-profit and governmental sectors are coming together to take responsibility for the planet”, said Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of YouthBuild USA. Her organization helps thousands of disadvantaged 16-24 year olds work toward their  GEDs or high school diplomas while they learn job skills by building affordable housing.


This grant will enable local affiliate YouthBuild Philadelphia to take its housing rehabilitation work to the next level.


“Youth Build Philadelphia has rehabbed about 75 houses since it began in 1992,” said Executive Director Simran Sidhu. “But this rehab will be different.  For the first time, we will seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.”


“The full-gut rehabilitation will use green building practices”, added George Jenkins, the construction foreman who will be supervising the students.  “We will use energy star appliances and light-bulbs, high efficiency heat systems and windows, green demolition, spray foam and fiberglass insulation, cool, white roofing and use of recycled materials. This program will prepare our students for the next wave of green construction. ”


Perhaps the biggest transformation will be in the lives of the 40 students who will rotate into this project from the Philadelphia YouthBuild Charter School.


Students Kahnyqua Weema and Kanisha Long dropped out of their traditional high schools. But now they are turned on to learning green technologies and getting their high school diploma. 


“This program is a new way of learning,” said Long. “I feel supported here.”


Both students expect to graduate in the summer of 2011.


For more, check out the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School and Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services Web sites.

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