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‘New PHA’ lays out ambitious plans to redevelop pocket of North Philly

 The Philadelphia Housing Authority is looking to revitalize the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor between Girard College and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is looking to revitalize the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor between Girard College and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is preparing to tackle the first part of an “ambitious,” multi-phase plan it believes will transform a struggling slice of North Philadelphia.

Sharswood is an arrowhead shaped cluster of blocks just north of Fairmount.

It’s most notably home to Girard College, but also a high crime rate and a lot of blight, particularly along Ridge and Cecil B. Moore Avenues, once well-traveled commercial corridors.

Over the next several years, PHA wants to completely remake the neighborhood with millions of federal, local, and — it’s hoped — private dollars.

That would mean acquiring more than 1,300 properties through eminent domain for a mix of  residential and commercial development. The agency plans to use some 300 parcels to build a brand new headquarters.

Most of the properties are vacant, tax-delinquent or city-owned real estate. Some were once owned by the housing agency.

“We have to be better neighbors. We cannot only do housing without a corridor that provides the level of amenities that residents in Center City, for example, enjoy. It’s what sustains community development,” said PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah.

In July, PHA is slated to begin building 57 rental units. It’s the first of a 10-phase, $500 million residential effort that will include affordable and market-rate housing, some of it to replace units that will be lost after the Blumberg apartment complex is demolished, likely in the fall.

Jeremiah said a “significant portion” of that total is already in hand. In all, PHA is planning to construct more than 1,200 homes and apartments.

A City Council hearing is scheduled for next week to address the parcels PHA hopes to acquire.

To be sure, PHA’s plans are being lauded by some residents, as well as elected officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose district includes the land PHA wants to acquire.

Some residents, however, are skeptical about PHA’s ability to drive neighborhood change.

“They don’t have a good record of managing residential properties, so it’s very hard to believe that, over the long term, they’ll do a good job of commercial corridor revitalization,” said Adam Lang, a board member of the Brewerytown-Sharswood Community Civic Association.

Jeremiah understands.

“We have not always been a good landlord. We have not always been a good partner. That’s the old PHA. That’s not the new PHA,” he said.

Only time will tell.

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