Community tension prompts walkout at Nicetown CDC meeting

The Nicetown Community Development Corp. oversaw a crowded and, at times, contentious Thursday night meeting that detailed plans about the ongoing development at Nicetown Court II, located near the Wayne Junction SEPTA station.

The $18.5 million development is known as Nicetown II, joining the already-completed Nicetown Court I complex on the 4300 block of Germantown Ave.

Project particulars

Managed by The Community Builders, an interstate non-profit development corporation, it includes 50 rental townhouses in two-, three- and four-bedroom configurations with accommodations for handicapped residents.

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Court residents will have access to 26 parking spaces in a gated off-street parking lot, along with 5,500 square feet of onsite retail space said to include anchoring restaurant Sister Muhammad’s Kitchen.

Funding comes from a variety of public and private sources, including the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.

“We want to invite business back to this corridor to make this area a walkable community,” said Zakariyya Abdur Rahman, president and CEO of the Nicetown CDC, which was formed in 1999.

Construction is anticipated to conclude in May, with overall completion of the project set for August.

Affordability the source of conflict

Thursday’s meeting became heated after organizers moved it to the New Inspirational Baptist Church’s sanctuary to accommodate the hundreds of residents and interested parties in attendance.

After quelling a slight altercation that occurred in the pews, Community Builders representatives maintained that Nicetown II is not low-income housing. Rather, it’s “affordable” housing and, as Wanda Langley from Community Builders noted, “There’s a huge difference.”

With rents ranging from $728 to $916 for a two-bedroom unit to a high of $1,147 for a four-bedroom unit — utilities are extra — the general tenor of the room was that the rates exceeded what many Nicetown resident can afford.

Langley said that the rents are priced lower than comparable housing in the city, giving those with incomes lower than the median an opportunity to have apartments that might be priced from $1,500 to $2,000.

“If you’re looking for low-income [housing] based on your income, it’s not what this is,” she said, prompting many in attendance to file out the door.

Opening the floor to questions, the first came from an unidentified resident who asked, “So, do y’all think this is right for this neighborhood?”

People left angrily throughout the meeting, leaving only a handful of attendees by the end.

Community impact

Majeedah Rashid, executive vice-president of the Nicetown CDC, said that while neighbors might have their concerns, her organization is “trying to improve all the conditions in the community.”

Then, New Inspirational Baptist Church Pastor Deshawnda Williams asked, “Why aren’t the prices comparable to what our income is?”

Williams said she understood the desire to develop Nicetown and attract both consumers and new residents, but added, “How can the constituents of Nicetown be participants in that if you set these high standards?

Noting that Nicetown generally a poor neighborhood, Rashid responded the Nicetown CDC is not only building houses, “We’re building people.”

“We’ve been around here for over 10 years, trying to develop people to be ready for what they want, and we want them to want something else other than poverty,” Rashid explained. “Right now, we’re not there.”

Asked afterward to whom the development intends to cater, Rashid replied, “Anybody who comes to the door. The people in Nicetown are right here, so they have ample opportunity, but we have people calling from Jersey, so we’re not going to restrict it.”

Political reaction

Reaction from Northwest Philadelphia politicians present at the meeting varied widely.

Invited to the podium, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood declined public comment on the project. Asked about this afterwards, Youngblood said the organizers “didn’t do their due diligence.”

“If you’re going to hold a meeting to discuss the future of the community, you should be forthcoming and have all your information there,” she said, referring to a perception of limited community notification about the meeting and the lack of materials available for attendees.

“It should be outlined so that the community has a complete understanding of what is transpiring,” she added. “I thought that they did not do that.”

Responding to those who left the meeting, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass told those remaining that “our community didn’t get this way overnight, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight.”

“We think it makes sense to have a balance of housing,” said Bass, defining that as market-rate housing existing alongside low-income housing, affordable housing, and senior housing. “This neighborhood is on the rise, and I don’t want anybody to think differently.”

Rahman agreed, in declaring that Nicetown is on the “uptick,” and that the Nicetown CDC is seeking to restore the neighborhood to its former vibrancy.

“This area was once a rich, vibrant, middle-class area,” declared Rahman, “and that’s what we’re trying to revitalize.”

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