by Kara Savidge for Philadelphia Neighborhoods
What once existed as an indication of neglect, a vacant lot at 617 N. 40th St., is now a sign of redevelopment and sustainability in Mantua.
A three-story affordable housing project for homeless women and children now occupies the space. Dubbed Jannie’s Place, the development was named after Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in recognition of the support she has given to the area in the realm of affordable housing assistance.
The project itself was overseen by the People’s Emergency Center, an organization that works toward social justice, provides services to the homeless and is working to revitalize sections of West Philadelphia.
“Jannie’s place was conceived nearly six years ago as part of PEC’s dual mission of providing affordable housing while revitalizing unused spaces in our neighborhoods,” said Trish Downey, the manager of external communications at the center.
“We take the most time in planning and finding funding to support housing developments that meet needs in the neighborhoods, as well as with the families PEC serves from across the city who are experiencing homelessness.”
Downey said that Jannie’s Place specifically, which includes more than 30 environmentally friendly units, was a significant project for PEC among its other housing efforts. It is PEC’s third Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified development, fitted with a green roof among other energy-saving tools. The sustainability concept was built off existing environmentally friendly construction regulations from the city and state.
“It was logical to look at how we could make utilities more affordable for the residents and the building more environmentally friendly for the neighborhood,” Downey said.
The center’s two other LEED-certified projects were slightly smaller unit-wise.
“It was exciting to do something like this on a larger scale when it comes to the number of units,” Downey said.
Some residents in the area like Jerry Battle cite the formerly vacant land as an eyesore and epicenter for crime and drug problems. However, they do appreciate the recent development to the land. But others, including Pat Stephanie said they see a distinct need for this type of housing in the area.
“Around here we really need it,” said Stephanie, who lives nearby on Brandywine Street.
“A lot of people are not necessarily homeless but are disheveled, either because of finances or the [recent] flood. People in the neighborhood are getting older, dying off and the properties are going somewhere else.”
Stephanie said there are other shelters and housing projects in the area which already serve the needs of people who come from all over West Philadelphia.
“There’s a few of them around, there’s one across the street from me on Brandywine [Street],” Stephanie said.
“It really makes an impact, not only for the people in the neighborhood but people come from all over and are placed there.”
Stephanie’s family has been in the area for more than 50 years, and her family owned a restaurant a block away from Jannie’s Place at 40th Street and Lancaster Avenue for 17 years. She said the lot was previously vacant for at least 19 or 20 years.
Jannie’s place was dedicated to City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell at a ribbon cutting on Sept. 20 and is now in the beginning of the pre-rental phase. Downey said the prospective move-in date for residents is difficult to predict because of the complicated process of reviewing applications and the size of the building in comparison to past projects.
“At the most basic level we hope to provide housing that is affordable for families and enjoyable for the neighborhood from the outside,” Downey said.
Stephanie is optimistic about the impact the new housing will have on the neighborhood and she is assured by the success of other projects in the area.
“Apparently they’re run pretty good,” Stephanie said. “I’ve talked to women at the other place and they say if it wasn’t for that place they’d have nowhere to go.”
Kara Savidge will be bringing Eyes on the Street/PlanPhilly dispatches from Mantua and Parkside as part of her work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a partner in this project, so expect to see stories from other Philadelphia Neighborhoods as well.