Northwest Neighbors of Germantown focus on neighborhood revitalization at Monday’s meeting

With an eye toward rebuilding, representatives from a pair of Philadelphia home-rehabilitation services spoke at the Monday night’s Northwest Neighbors of Germantown meeting to tell residents how their organizations can assist in neighborhood renewal efforts.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP) is a group that sponsors volunteer “Rebuilding Days” throughout the year. The program often concentrated on one block at a time in “Block Builds” that serve several low-income homeowners.

Formed by students at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1988, RTP initially focused on West Philadelphia. In the years since, it has expanded operations to assist more than 1,100 homeowners by providing more than $24 million of repairs in North Philadelphia, Germantown and other locations in the Delaware Valley.

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia — the local chapter of a national organization, now in its fourth decade — relies upon “partnership housing,” where homes are built with donated materials and property by the home’s recipients and volunteers.

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With more than one million people housed worldwide, Habitat has assisted more than 160 families in Philadelphia in purchasing homes, completing more than 20 houses in Germantown in an effort to help create a “tipping point” for neighborhood stabilization.

Commitment to neighborhood renewal

Speaking for RTP, Block Build coordinator Shenetta Payne said that while her organization currently has no projects planned for Germantown, it has conducted rebuilding efforts in several neighborhood locales, specifically on Clapier, Garfield, Price and Wister streets.

Jim Coburn, operations coordinator for RTP, said that these projects all occurred within the last three years as part of the group’s spring Block Builds. Traditionally, he explained, one of these block builds is in RTP’s home neighborhood of West Philadelphia, and the other can be citywide.

While the Logan neighborhood has been selected for this year’s RTP Spring Block Build, Coburn said that Germantown could be selected once again provided a strong application “cluster” — five to 15 deserving homes in tight geographical proximity — and strong local leadership for recruitment and organization.

Asked by NWNG leader Lisa Hopkins about the “turnaround” time for applications, Payne said everything is “dependent.” Although RTP is currently booked for 2013, she recommended submitting applications to being the process.

“There’s never a guarantee until we’ve got funding lined up,” added Coburn, “but we’ve got to have that cluster. That’s the first step.”

Building toward the future

Jon Musselman, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s director of project planning, reiterated that the group’s mission is to provide affordable home ownership throughout Philadelphia in partnership with families who will “build their own future.”

Musselman said that his organization has worked on projects in Germantown for approximately 15 years, primarily along Queen Lane, Pulaski Avenue and Morris Street.

“Our goal is to deal with the issue of property stabilization and rebuilding,” he said, observing that Germantown has experienced patterns of disinvestment for decades.

Musselman has spoken with NWNG before.

In 2012, he spoke with the group in anticipation of a zoning hearing for a habitat project on West Queen Lane. He indicated that zoning permits were received, but that recent cold weather had delayed groundbreaking.

Beyond this project, Habitat has no specific projects or rehabs planned in Germantown, but Mussleman is currently monitoring bank-owned properties and vacant lots for future consideration. He signaled an interest in funding new construction.

“We understand that there is a lot in the works here,” he said, “but we want to stay involved and see if there’s a way we can continue to contribute.”

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