‘It’s a blessing’: Philly nonprofit rehabs nearly a dozen homes to prevent displacement and reduce violence

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia revitalizes more than 100 homes each year, largely with the help of private donations. The upgrades are free to homeowners.

A person works on pieces of wood on a table in the street on a block of rowhomes.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia volunteers are repairing 10 homes on the 5300 block of Chancellor Street in West Philadelphia on March 31, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Andrea Johnson’s eyes light up when she talks about the free facelift her two-story rowhouse is receiving thanks to a group of nonprofit staffers and a horde of volunteers.

The West Philadelphia block captain is getting new floors, a new bannister, and new paint. There’s also the pipe in the basement she’s wanted to replace for years.

“It’s a blessing,” said Johnson inside her kitchen. “There’s no words for it.”

Andrea Johnson stands in her house, amid ongoing repairs, smiling.
Andrea Johnson, a resident of the 5300 block of Chancellor Street since 2008 and the block captain, is the recipient of free repairs through Rebuilding Together Philadelphia in March 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
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The upgrades are courtesy of Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, an organization that revitalizes more than 100 homes each year, largely with the help of private donations.

The group works to prevent displacement, maintain generational wealth, and reduce violence.

“Rebuilding Together Philadelphia obviously can’t solve the root causes of violence in the city. But we are part of that crime remediation strategy and we’re happy to help in a little way for such a serious problem the city is facing,” said president Stefanie Seldin as volunteers and staffers buzzed on both sides of Chancellor Street.

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The 10 homes that are part of this latest project sit a short walk from the 52nd Street Station of the Market-Frankford El, where a 19-year-old man was shot Friday morning while riding the train.

They’re also located less than a mile from University City, a swiftly gentrifying section of the neighborhood.

“Which means for them higher real estate taxes and harder to be able to stay in these neighborhoods,” said Seldin.

Johnson moved to Chancellor Street in 2008. She leads a nonprofit that fights against human trafficking and takes care of her three grandchildren — ages 9, 4, and 23 months — while their mother works.

She said Rebuilding Together Philadelphia is giving her peace of mind by taking care of these much-needed repairs.

“To have it done now and to help to ensure that my kids are safe and myself is safe, and that we can have a house that is long standing, and we can have a place that we can come home to that’s safe and we can call home and relax and enjoy instead of worrying about a lot of things, that’s what this program has done for us,” she said.

Each home on Chancellor Street is receiving roughly $15,000 worth of upgrades.

Since launching 35 years ago, the organization has spent more than $40 million fixing up roughly 2,100 homes.

Broke in PhillyWHYY 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.

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