Community-level debate over the future of a shuttered public-housing high-rise in Germantown is far from dead.
Thursday night’s meeting inside SEPTA’s Queen Lane Station featured a lively and, at points, tense discussion about the Queen Lane Apartments site, with Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass in the middle of it all.
The 16-story building, owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, is slated to be demolished to make way for 55 rental units, a mix of townhomes and apartments.
While residents and Bass support the demolition, there were differences of opinion on what should happen next.
Bass did not outright oppose PHA’s project at 301 W. Queen Lane, noting that there are many hardworking people in the district who rely on agency housing.
“These are people that get up every day, do what they’re supposed to do, and still can’t make it,” she told a packed room. “They’re working folks, who need assistance, who will be going into those units.”
That said, the first-term official added that she does not support a project that would interfere with a Potter’s Field that sits below the site.
Potter’s Field concerns
The African-American burial ground, created in 1755, was discovered as PHA moved towards demolition. It is unclear, however, how large an area it covers with the complete results of fieldwork performed to that end still unknown.
Those results are part of a currently incomplete environmental review of the site.
The Section 106 Agreement must be executed and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before the 57-year-old property can come down for new development.
It’s possible that the boundaries of the burial ground, which PHA has vowed to preserve, could compromise their plans for the site.
Lisa Hopkins with Northwest Neighbors of Germantown, which organized the event, said that nothing should be built on the site, PHA housing or otherwise. She’d like the entire site to be devoted to honoring and memorializing the Potter’s Field.
“To me, when you have a high-rise that was 120 families, then you make a low-rise of twin homes with 119, what’s the difference?” said Hopkins.
Use existing vacancies instead?
Hopkins and Barry LeLand, a fellow Northwest Neighbors member, said they would prefer PHA use existing properties in the neighborhood to house the families that would move into the rental units currently planned at Queen Lane.
“You’re going to put low-income housing in one concentration and you may as well name it a prison,” said LeLand.
Kimberly Mathis, who lives directly across the street from the fenced-off high-rise building, said a decision needs to be reached sooner rather than later regardless.
“Our ancestors are rolling in their grave right about now because, in Germantown, the fight was for freedom, to live as equals in the community,” said Mathis. “We need to get this established and get it done so those people can be housed. They’re waiting.”
Bass said her office is currently looking into who owns properties in the area as part of a larger neighborhood rejuvenation effort.
In an interview following the meeting, she noted that using other PHA properties could be an option.
“We’re in the process of getting the facts and then we can speak more intelligently about what the next steps should be,” said Bass.