Habitat for Humanity ‘hands up’ Priscilla Street home to grateful Germantown family

On any other day, a crowd of kids and older adults spilling off the sidewalk into a Philadelphia street would constitute a run-of-the-mill block party.

But Friday afternoon, on the 5300 block of Priscilla St. in Germantown, volunteers and neighbors gathered for a celebratory open house of sorts.

It was a dedication ceremony hosted by Habitat for Humanity the day the Wallace-Bassett family was ceremoniously given keys to their first home.

A long time coming

Bilqis Bassett lived in West Philadelphia for years but moved to Germantown in pursuit of better housing.

After living in a relative’s house for months, things were getting too cramped to stay. Two years ago, the family applied for the program. Half of that time was spent working toward a down payment. 

“It really is a blessing. Not even the fact that they give you a house and they work with you, but just the people are very welcoming and warm and understanding, courteous, kind,” said Bassett as she walked outside to her newly christened backyard space.

Frank Monaghan, executive director of Habitat for Humanity’s Philadelphia chapter, stood outside the century-old stone house and discussed a milestone.

Known by Habitat as a “hand-up rather than a hand-out,” participating families must contribute 350 hours of sweat equity by working on the property along with other houses in progress.

“Today, it goes from a construction site to a home,” he said. “I know they kept the original floors on the top floor which is really pretty nice. The rest, we put in new hardwood floors on the first and second floor, so it’s all very energy-efficient and very allergy friendly.”

What’s next?

As she settles into her new home, what’s the first thing on Bassett’s to-do list? 

“Probably go to Walmart and get a pool, a really big pool,” she laughed, explaining that 100-degree days and four children aren’t an easy match. “I want to raise my family in it, watch them running around the house making a mess, that home feeling.”

Monaghan said the project, for which the Jack and Jill of America Foundation chipped in, would never have happened without next-door neighbor Kimberly Mathis.

“She was instrumental in us getting it, actually, this house was causing problems in Kim’s house with water damage and things to that effect,” he said.

Mathis moved into her Habitat-sponsored home in 2009 with her teenage daughter who has spastic cerebral palsy. Shortly thereafter, she began lobbying the Philadelphia Housing Authority to sell the vacant house so it could be refurbished. Now on Habitat’s Board of Directors, Mathis was ecstatic to see a new family moving in.

“If you give, you get back,” said Mathis, adding that small things mean a lot, like a personal bathroom for her special needs daughter.

Reclaimed land

As Mathis recalled, Priscilla Street was a known drug block in the 1990s.

“Unfortunately, I do have family members who are recovering addicts and one of my family members told me that this was one of the houses that he went to to use,” she said. “So, this whole block was a drug block. But, once habitat came in and started moving families in, things changed.”

Over its history, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia has completed more than 20 houses in Germantown in an effort to help create a “tipping point” for neighborhood stabilization.

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