Residents prepare for demolition of Queen Lane apartments

The Philadelphia Housing Authority met with Germantown residents Thursday night to discuss plans for demolishing the blighted Queen Lane apartments and Wissahickon playground.  New housing units would replace the apartment building at 301 W. Queen Lane.  The new plan calls for 55 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and townhouses on four connecting streets: Pulaski Avenue, Queen Lane, Priscilla and Penn streets. The cluster of new apartment buildings would surround a courtyard with a playground.

Tenants have already begun moving out of the 16-story highrise and will completely relocate by mid-November, PHA said; 44 tenants remain in the building. Residents can opt for a Section 8 voucher, move out of public housing, or move to other public housing sites. Each family will be dealt with independently, according to Michael Johns, PHA general manager for community development and design.

Preparation for demolition will begin in December and actual demolition is slated to last between March 2012 and June 2012. Construction will start in August 2012 and is expected to last a year.

“Queen Lane development was built as a promise for the community, ended up being a bit of a problem. And we realized over the years of deferred maintenance and other issues that it was really time for the Housing Authority to do something to that site,” Johns said.

The crowded nave inside Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, located at 5333 Pulaski Ave. Thursday night gave way to a heated meeting regarding residents’ concerns and questions about the project.

Many neighbors feared the new apartments – 100 percent rental units – would lead to a sense of carelessness among tenants.

“They’re not going to take care of it as much as home owners,” neighbors yelled out.

PHA explained that it is receiving 22 percent less funds than last year. The government does not provide funds for home ownership, only rental units, Johns told neighbors.

Neighbors also feared they would not be informed at every step of the project. PHA promised the crowd otherwise.

“Remember there are 119-120 families, at least 120 lives. We said we can’t just displace these people,” Johns said. We need to come back and still have some affordable rental housing, but let’s reduce it, reduce the scale so we don’t have this monolith sitting in the neighborhood that’s both a detraction and some other issues.”

Another resident was concerned about the ecological effects of a possible implosion of the building in the densely populated residential area.

Johns assured the group that the implosion would have no effect on the surrounding area.  “We have done demolitions for the past 15 years. The last implosion that we did was a 15-story highrise in Mantua, West Philadelphia. Literally, it was the same situation…and no impact whatsoever.”

If PHA does decide to perform an implosion, Johns said, it would take place in one day and residents would be alerted far in advance.

PHA also explained the effects on property values. Econsult Corporation, an economic consultant group, has done studies proving any time PHA has done a demolition of a public highrise development, property values have risen 20 percent.

“It’s a very significant site for us to be dealing with in particular,” Johns said, referring to the location’s long history. The Queen Lane apartment building was once the site for one of the first burial grounds for African Americans in the nation.

Contact Vanessa Martinez at vmartinez@whyy.org/

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