The ambitious public housing plan to remake an entire Philadelphia neighborhood

    The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) demolishes a high-rise towers in North Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) demolishes a high-rise towers in North Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    And what these large-scale redevelopment projects mean for a community.

    Video by Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks

    Cities are always in a state of flux. But in one neighborhood in North Philadelphia, the change is happening fast.

    On March 19, the city’s Public Housing Authority demolished two public housing towers in Sharswood, a neighborhood where poverty and crime rates are double that of the city as a whole. The demolition is part of a 10-year, half-billion dollar plan to transform Sharswood into a “mixed-income community.”

    PHA says it’s going to build more than 1,200 new housing units in Sharswood, revitalize its commercial corridor, and possibly open one of its shuttered schools, according to a story by WHYY reporter Katie Colaneri.

    The high-rise towers were built in the late 1960s, when federal officials said high-rise public housing was “was the best way to house the largest number of people for the least amount of money,” Colaneri explains.

    In many cities, these kinds of high-rise housing projects have led to concentrated poverty, because they were built in poor, mostly black neighborhoods where there were few jobs and middle-class families were moving out.

    “What comes along with concentrated poverty are a host of other social ills — disinvestment in not only the housing, but the schools, other community amenities… which then leads to other problems like crime, violence,” Mark Joseph, a professor at Case Western Reserve University who studies public housing, tells Colaneri.

    Joseph, who has studied mixed-income developments in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, says there can be downsides to this kind of development. For one thing, only 15 to 20 percent of former residents typically return to the neighborhood. And he says the mix of incomes can sometimes lead to tension between residents.

    A changing neighborhood

    PlanPhilly Managing Editor Ashley Hahn and WHYY producer Jeanette Woods talked to members of a 120-year-old church that sits amidst the construction about what it’s like to live in a neighborhood that’s part of a grand redevelopment plan.  

    Some of the church’s members lived in the demolished towers and have been relocated to other parts of the city. 

    A deacon who’s been with the church for 16 years says it’s been hard to adjust to their absence. “Saying goodbye to a lot of those folks I’ve been with for years, tears came into my eyes. But they had to go. Once in a while I see one of them on the street. ‘How you doin’ Deac?’ I fell in love with them. My heart went out to them when they had to leave.”

    Another community member said she’s praying for the best. “The change that’s coming, we don’t know why. But we’re here,” she said. “And we’re here to receive whatever God sends us and gives to us.”

    In another story, Reporter Ryan Briggs talked to a woman who is one of the last residents on a block next to the now-demolished towers. PHA has seized most of the homes on her block through eminent domain, but she’s awaiting a settlement on her house. In the meantime, she has to deal with dust, constant rumbling from the construction, and — rats.

    Thousands of them are fleeing the demolition of vacant homes nearby. “The rodents, they’re out of control. They’re just basically taking over,” she tells Briggs.

    Look for more stories on the redevelopment plan in Remaking Sharswood, an ongoing collaboration between PlanPhilly, NewsWorks, and Keystone Crossroads.

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