After months of delay caused by a protest encampment and years of anticipation, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has broken ground on the $52-million cornerstone of its 10-year, half-billion-dollar remake of the Sharswood neighborhood.
Wednesday’s triumphant ceremony at the 2077 Ridge Ave. lot, soon to become a 234,000- square-foot apartment and retail development, almost didn’t happen.
“The project came very, very, very close to collapsing,” said PHA president and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah. “Had we not gotten the encampment decamped and vacated we would not be here.”
OccupyPHA’s encampment — Camp Teddy — became home to around 20 people, stalling construction initially scheduled for July. After twisting the authority’s arm with a refusal to leave, encampment organizers last week vacated the site after negotiating a deal they say will result in permanent housing for camp residents.
The Sharswood Ridge development is now set to bring 98 rental units, a discount grocery store, Everest Urgent Care, Santander Bank, and a Wingstop restaurant. Nearly half of the homes are slated to be rented to low-income tenants who qualify for below-market-rate housing.
Mosaic Development Partners, a Black-owned development firm, will serve as the lead developer of the site with responsibility for financing, construction and operation of the center. Shift Capital, a social impact developer, will partner with Mosaic while Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and a state housing agency will help finance the project with a mix of federal, city, state and private dollars.
“Sharswood Ridge is a testament to our work and belief that all neighborhoods deserve equitable investment and wealth-building opportunities,” said Leslie Smallwood-Lewis, Mosaic Development partner. “This is only possible through a true public-private partnership, and we’re honored to work with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, elected officials, the local community and our investors who are dedicated to bringing essential services and improving neighborhoods.”
Officials expect the project to create more than 200 construction jobs as well as more than 200 permanent jobs, of which 70% are expected to be made available to people who live in the predominantly Black neighborhood.
In August, Sharswood residents led by Darnetta Arce, executive director of the Brewerytown/Sharswood CDC, protested the protest encampment, calling on Occupy PHA organizers to leave the site so Mosaic could begin building there. Arce, on Wednesday, expressed gratitude and optimism for opportunities for employment and homeownership.
“This is truly, truly a blessing to see this revitalization,” she said. “PHA has opened the doors to opportunity.”
PHA convinced residents of Camp Teddy to clear the site with an offer of nine vacant PHA properties on Westmont Street in Strawberry Mansion for permanent homes. The rowhouses will be managed through a community land trust operated by encampment leaders, according to officials. Seven of the homes will be rehabbed through a pilot program, where former encampment residents will be trained by and work alongside the Building and Construction Trades Council. Those homes are ready to be conveyed to the land trust, said Jeremiah. Encampment leaders are responsible for rehabbing the remaining two before they can be transferred.
The nine properties represent the start of a community land trust that, should all go as planned, stands to hold a total of 59 properties.
The city and the Philadelphia Housing Authority just reached an agreement with leaders at the other encampment, Camp JTD, on Ben Franklin Parkway where they vowed to transfer 50 vacant properties into the land trust.
Meanwhile, the former site of Camp Teddy will see construction that includes a three-story townhouse-style building with 32 rentals, two mixed-use buildings that include 66 rental units, a parking garage with about 200 parking spaces for PHA, and about 44,000 square feet of retail space.
The project’s private investors include the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, who invested through their real estate and community enrichment arm, HBSE Real Estate.
“The Sharswood Ridge project is even more important as we emerge from the public health and economic crises we’re currently facing, ones that have disproportionately affected Black communities,” said David Gould, chief diversity and impact officer for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.
Mosaic developers hope to kick off the estimated 17-month construction process next week.
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.