Bringing new homes, old convenience back to Sharswood Blumberg

Officials broke ground on Phase III of the Blumberg/Sharswood project, which will result in 83 new affordable and energy-efficient rental units. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Officials broke ground on Phase III of the Blumberg/Sharswood project, which will result in 83 new affordable and energy-efficient rental units. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Construction began this week on the third phase of an ambitious 10-year, $500 million redevelopment of the Sharswood Blumberg section of North Philadelphia.

Located at 22nd and West Oxford streets, the 8-acre development will include 83 affordable rental units — a mix of townhomes and walk-up apartments ranging from 616-square-foot studios to 1,641-square-foot units.

The new, energy-efficient homes will rise on the 8 acres that once housed 1,500 people in worn brick towers cut off from the city’s street grid and prone to crime.

In addition to building the homes, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has committed to breaking up the superblock there, reconnecting 23rd Street between Jefferson and Oxford streets.  A second connector, Bucknell Street, between 23rd and 24th will also be built.

“The restoration of the city street grid will improve the neighborhood and pedestrian safety,” Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA president and CEO, said at a Monday groundbreaking. The reconnected 23rd Street will be wide enough for bus travel and include features designed to reduce stormwater runoff and welcome pedestrians, according to agency plans.

The new development is part of a massive, federally funded undertaking that began in earnest in 2016, when PHA imploded the high-rise towers. Replacing the 1960s-era structures will be a total of roughly 1,200 total housing units — a mix of rental and homeownership units at affordable and market rates. But the project, this time, extends beyond housing.

In 2017,  a newly renovated neighborhood school, Vaux Big Picture High School, opened on Master Street. Later this month, a 135,000-square-foot PHA headquarters is expected to open on nearby Ridge Avenue, creating a fresh anchor for the commercial corridor.

The much-studied plan aims to address the surrounding community by setting aside resources for revitalizing local businesses, improving Ridge Avenue and creating additional community support services and programs to keep longtime residents secure in the neighborhood, even as it changes.
“We’re actually starting to see the private sector showing interest in investing in this particular community, which is a good thing,” said City Council President Darryl Clarke at Monday’s groundbreaking.  “This is what we need to do across the city of Philadelphia building an equitable community, an affordable community.”

Hopes are high for the new neighborhood, but the redevelopment came at a cost to many longtime residents.

To make way for construction, 500 families were relocated from the Blumberg apartments and 800 private properties were seized by eminent domain. Seventy-three of them were occupied. Many historic buildings were lost.

Before workers prepped the buildings for demolition, neighbors who had been displaced came together for a prayer vigil in the Blumberg courtyard,  Minister Dawn Duppins of nearby Miller Memorial Baptist told PlanPhilly in 2016.

“It was quite a sad occasion because some of those people had been there since they were younger. This is something that is affecting them. They’ve had to leave what they’ve always known as home … Now they’re scattered all over the city,” Duppins said. “A bond that they’ve had for many years was broken.”

Rupert Alston, 62, lived in the area for more than 30 years before relocating in 2015 during the renovation of Blumberg’s senior homes. He plans to move back to the remade development in February.

“This is my home,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back up here.”

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