The Philadelphia Housing Authority is moving forward with long-anticipated plans to demolish the Queen Lane Apartments in Germantown and replace it with a mix of townhouses and duplexes, in an attempt to remake the troubled housing project.
“Those particular units have not done well over time,” said Michael Johns, PHA’s general manager for community development and design. “The high rise, the density of the families in the high rise, combined with the social conditions and the deferred maintenance have made that building an eyesore.”
The 16-story high-rise of 120 units at 301 W. Queen Lane, and the adjacent Kelly Playground, will be replaced with 55 units of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and townhomes surrounding a courtyard with a playground, PHA officials told Plan Philly.
More than visually jarring, the Queen Lane project’s condition has held back its Germantown neighborhood; its removal is a key component in the city Planning Commission’s Wayne Junction Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Plan. Like the current PHA plan for Queen Lane, the TOD plan shows a new Queen Lane development and planned scatter-site housing that will replace some of the units lost.
The 19 low-rise units currently on the Queen Lane site will stay.
The housing agency’s board approved the plan for Queen Lane in October. Prior to that PHA applied for funding through tax credits for the project from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. PHA would have been able to raise about $10 million in private equity toward the $31.2 million overall project cost had it won those tax credits.
Late last week PHA learned it wasn’t selected, Johns said, but the agency will now seek a similar though less competitive tax credit program with PHFA. “Our intention is to move forward with the project because we have made that commitment and we feel like it’s the right thing to do for the neighborhood,” he said.
The decision also signals a continuing shift in priorities at PHA, as some of the money will come from funds that won’t be used to build new headquarters at 2012 Chestnut St., a plan now indefinitely postponed.
PHA expects about $22 million in financing through the new round of PHFA tax credits. Construction will total about $18.5 million for the project. The total cost includes design, demolition, tenant relocation, site excavation, infrastructure, solar hot water panels and other “green” building features.
Removing a relic
The Queen Lane tower is a relic of another age in both public housing and building design, a dense slab that looked out of place in the neighborhood from its opening in the 1950s, and in decades since has become notorious for deteriorating living conditions and crime.
“The building’s systems are in poor condition, the layouts of the units are just inadequate for today’s living standards,” Johns said. “In particular, the electrical is problematic in these units — if someone was to put in an air conditioner and then plug in a toaster, the whole unit may go out.”
Architecturally, elevation plans by Kelly/Maiello Inc. show the new Queen Lane project’s style will feature familiar Philadelphia colonial-style row houses, with brick fronts and dormers. The homes were designed so that the buildings — and their occupants — would fit better with the neighborhoods imediately surrounding the site.
“The goal is, in the end, to have these units blend seamlessly into the fabric of the neighborhood, rather than this monolith,” Johns said.
Once funding is secure, residents will begin receiving 90-day notices of relocation, and the process of finding new housing begins. Some families could be moved before the start of the next school year.
Current Queen Lane residents can apply for spots in the new development, but they will have to compete with PHA tenants citywide. Applications will be chosen on a tiered system based on housing need, varying income levels, credit and criminal background checks, and prior ties to the local area.
“It’s usually an opportunity for residents who want to opt out of public housing, or who want to take Section 8 vouchers and move anywhere in the United States,” Johns said. For current residents who have had bad experiences living at Queen Lane, according to Johns, it can be a chance to start anew.
“We’ve found in a lot of cases, [residents] don’t want to come back,” he said.
Contact Amy Z. Quinn at email@example.com