Neighbors say at-risk housing proposal doesn’t belong on Kemble Avenue

Several dozen neighbors and members of a newly created civic association gathered at the intersection of Chew and Ogontz avenues Thursday night to protest the pending conversion of the Kemble Park apartment building.

The deteriorating building at 5701 Kemble Ave. is slated to be renovated to house two at-risk-populations. Residents in the area are anything but happy about it.

“It’s really sad that they’re doing this to our neighborhood,” said Byron Collins, 68, who lives one block from the building, noting that it’s oversaturation at its best. “Not too far from here, they already have a drug rehab center and the patients all filter down here and creep in people’s backyards. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even safe around here anymore and this new place is only going to make it worse.”

Locals formed A Concerned Community Association (ACCA) back in September when, they say, city officials and administrators from Resources for Human Development (RHD) stood them up at a meeting where they were scheduled to voice their concerns about the new facility.

The facility will accommodate a mixture of formerly homeless transgendered men and women, some drug and alcohol recovery patients and elderly men and women with mental-health disabilities. It’s a first-of-its-kind facility that neighbors say will ruin the community and drive down property values.

ACCA President Lorraine Payne has just one question for RHD: Are we safe?

“We want to protect our children and our homes,” Payne said. “If RHD puts this facility here, our homes will be in jeopardy, our lives will be in jeopardy and our properties will be in jeopardy. So we’re saying no, not in our neighborhood.”

Richelle Gunter of RHD said there is no inherent risk to safety.

“None of the participants in our program present a danger to the members of the community. They have not committed any crimes,” Gunter said. “I appreciate concern for security but we have a concern as well that everyone is safe and that medically fragile older individuals will have a safe place to reside.”

Francis Bradley, 77, attended the protest where she gathered signatures for the group’s petition. She said she wants the protests to at least prompt a moratorium or stop the opening altogether.

“I’m hopeful. We have our kids going right past here to school and it’s just not safe for them,” Bradley said.

Two high schools, an elementary school, La Salle University and several daycare centers are within a few blocks of the proposed location.

Gunter countered that the facility will help to improve the neighborhood.

“Our experience is that people with addictions who are not in treatment are more likely to commit a crime to support their habit. We’re expecting a reduction in crime. We believe we will bring more safety,” Gunter said. “We saw this as an opportunity to work with a developer who would take an eyesore in the community, renovate it and allow us to lease it and that it would improve the value of the community and the surrounding neighborhood.”

However, ACCA spokesperson Helen Blue said the facility and the residential area just don’t fit together.

“The reality of it is the mix of people on serious medication, recovering from drugs and alcohol, are going to be in our community. We know the people need help; you just don’t put this type of facility in this community,” she said.

Payne said ACCA’s lawyer, Yvonne Haskins, is looking into zoning issues for the building. In the meantime, additional protests are being planned.

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