Community concern over Potter’s Field project shifts to ensuring local hires

About 50 Germantown residents filed into Mt. Moriah Church for the monthly Philadelphia Housing Authority meeting about plans for a Queen Lane Apartments project that stirred passionate debate during recent months.

Though PHA had altered its plans to reflect community wishes that a historic Potter’s Field burial ground be protected and recognized, residents are now working to ensure some construction jobs go to workers from the immediate community.

PHA officials noted that they are required to have at least 30 percent of new hires qualified as low-income due to federal funding. Enrico Crispo, PHA’s general manager of workforce development, encouraged residents to apply but added a caveat.

“There are some requirements. You can’t just show up and say, ‘I wanna work,'” he said. “You’ve got to be a tradesperson, a carpenter, plumber or electrician.”

Community concerns about hiring histories

Crispo described the authority’s “pre-apprenticeship” program that has placed 400 PHA residents jobs in the local unions upon completing their 21-week training program and passing exams. Only 148 are currently active in the field, though.

Among the residents who said they were worried that larger bids were already spoken for was Rev. Ricci J. Hausley of Germantown.

“Traditionally what happens in Philadelphia is that a lot of people who don’t look like us, and don’t live here, get all the work, and they throw peanuts at us,” he said.

Michael Johns, PHA’s general manager of community development and design, said the apprenticeship program has helped remedy that situation.

“For so many years, contractors would get work from the housing authority give a public housing resident a job holding a flag, saying ‘Stop, go, stop, go,'” he said. “At the end of the job that resident went back to unemployment.”

Hiring not necessarily PHA’s call

Despite PHA’s promise to accept applications at the worksite, at West Queen Lane and Pulaski Avenue, new hires would techically be subcontractors of Dale Corp, not the housing agency.

Shelda Foster Jones, who lives within three blocks of the site, said she’s been to nearly all of the community meetings related to the project but never realized PHA doesn’t have the final say.

“I don’t think that there was an understanding that the unions can pretty much decide who can work on the site,” she said. “I don’t think that was understood by the majority of the community.”

Project delays

Demolition preparations are expected to start early next month, but Johns said the project schedule will be pushed back.

“In order to have these opportunities, there’s gotta be support for the project, a push on the unions, political support, and community support. We need that funding,” he said.

Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass initially had reservations with the project, but after conversations with community groups and PHA, those concerns were allayed. However, state Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood said that she is still not ready to endorse the project, which requires approval from a state agency.

“I have never sent a support letter, I just support the community wholeheartedly and I want things to happen in this community, jobs or any type of development, but there’s a larger community besides PHA,” she said. “You can have all of these meetings, but if you haven’t gotten approval or commitment, you can’t do anything.”

Dale Corp. general manager Jay Ferraro confirmed that his company doesn’t even have job bids to offer to local companies yet because they haven’t gotten the approval to move forward. Indeed, community members say they want more information before giving the greenlight.

State and federal approval still needed

Until Philadelphia Housing Authority Finance Agency (PHFA) and the U.S. Department Housing and Development approve PHA’s plans, demolition can not start.

According to the PHFA, the project is to be financed by a $9.6 million tax-exempt bond with four-percent tax credit program for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The total cost is estimated at $18.6 million. PHFA spokesman Scott Elliott confirmed that the Philadelphia Housing Authority is requesting the state agency to issue the bonds and be the lender themselves. That approval process will take more than 90 days to process.

The next PHA meeting about the project is set for Mt. Moriah Church, 6 p.m. on March 29. PHA has established a hotline (215-684-4112) for residents with questions and concerns about the project.

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