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Now Hiring!: Is the Philadelphia Housing Authority Making Good on Their Promise to Sharswood?

When the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) announced its project to rebuild the Sharswood neighborhood, it promised to create at least 70 jobs for local residents.

According to some in the neighborhood, PHA has failed to make good on its commitment.

On April 21, 2016, frustrated Sharswood residents gathered outside the site of the demolished Blumberg high rises to protest the issue.

Resident Jeff Glenn said the PHA is getting away with bringing in builders from New Jersey and other counties in Pennsylvania instead of hiring locally in Sharswood.

The PHA contracted companies Domus, Geppert Bros. Inc., and TN Ward for the demolishing of the Blumberg high rises and the building of new homes of the site.

Domus is a Philadelphia-based company  that demolished two of the three Blumberg high rises and is building 57 townhomes on 10 lots in Sharswood. Contractors such as TN Ward, based in Ardmore, and Geppert Bros. Inc., a Colmar, Pennsylvania demolition firm are hiring workers from New Jersey,

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Geppert Bros. Inc., is a Colmar-based construction company, one of which is from another county, and the Sharswood residents are frustrated at not being hired by the contractor. The PHA promised over 70 jobs to local residents, but so far, many have not been hired.

There were several New Jersey license plates on pickup trucks driven by laborers on the site. Disgruntled Sharswood resident Haron Ali pointed out the plates to this reporter.

Ali feels betrayed because PHA is contracting with companies that are not hiring workers from Philadelphia.

After submitting a job application for a position as a laborer for the building of homes at the 1500 block of North 23rd, 24th and 25th streets, Ali received a letter from PHA rejecting him for the job.

Ali, like other residents, is troubled by the PHA not hiring more people locally, despite its Section Three Job Bank for PHA residents and qualified Section Three non-PHA residents.

The PHA’s online job bank is a website for residents to submit their resumes for jobs that they are interested in. When an applicant submits a resume to the PHA’s job bank, a contractor such as Domus will search for resumes from applicants. It is through this online system that Sharswood residents can find job opportunities with the Blumberg project.

Residents were hoping to be hired by the contractors for demolition and construction work, but the completion time for the townhomes is drawing closer, Ali said.

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One townhome at the corner of North 25th and Jefferson streets is almost complete on the outside. Windows are already installed. The other houses are not far behind, and residents such as Kirk Oliver want to be involved with the project. Oliver feels connected to the area where two Blumberg towers were imploded, because his mother passed away years ago in one of the buildings.

Homes being built on the site are expected to be completed in September, Ali said. With the summer fast approaching, Sharswood residents are running out of time to be hired.

One of Ali’s grievances about the PHA’s job application was that it does not say whether the applicant is required to have  OSHA 10 certification. To  become OSHA 10 certified, applicants must take a 10-hour online construction course that raises awareness of recognition, avoidance, abatement and prevention of safety and health hazards in workplaces.

The contractors required the workers to be in a union, he said.

Ali said he is neither OSHA 10 certified nor in a union, so the PHA did not hire him.

“How does this help me get a job in my own neighborhood? They haven’t even hired 10 guys from our own neighborhood,” Ali alleges.

Both Ali and Glenn believe that if the PHA filled 70 positions for this project, it would help the neighborhood bounce back from crime.

Glenn claims that residents recovering from a life of crime can benefit from construction jobs with the Sharswood Development project.

Working on a project such as the Sharswood-Blumberg development would give the employees a step up into a career in construction, Glenn said.

Ali said he knows people who could change their lives around if they were hired for a laborer job on the project.

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The townhouses being built on North 23rd, 24th, and 25th streets are nearing completion, the deadline being September. Local residents feel disempowered from not being hired for all the jobs the PHA said the Sharswood/Blumberg project would create.

“We’re trying to get a job,” Ali said. “I want a hand-up, not a handout.”

Another resident by the name of Cecil Powell also submitted a job application, but he never heard back from PHA or the contractors.

To add insult to injury, the PHA laid off 18 residents soon after they hired them for the implosion of the Blumberg towers on March 19th, Powell said.

“I could change my life with extra money,” Powell said.

Many people could improve their lives with that extra money, Ali and Glenn agreed. Residents can leave behind troubled lifestyles with a new job, Glenn said.

Glenn, Ali and Powell reflect the aggravation of Sharswood residents who no longer trust the PHA to carry out its promises to improve their community by creating jobs.

“I don’t have any confidence in them (the PHA),” Ali said. “We can do very good work, and we want them to involve us in the community.”

Ali expressed that Sharswood residents feel as though they’re being shunned and uprooted senselessly from their community.

“You’re uprooting these people, and the memories…the memories are priceless,” he said.

Kirk Oliver, another resident present with Ali at the construction site, was feeling heartbroken because his mother passed away in one of the demolished Blumberg buildings and he was not hired to work on the site.

“I lost my mom in this building, and today (April 29th) is her birthday,” Oliver said. “I wanted to work here in any way I could.”

Oliver laments that the PHA has not lived up to its word.

“We’re not part of it,” he said. “They sell us dreams and tell us things we want to hear.”

Residents wonder why, if the project is federally funded with a $500,000 planning grant, more people are not being hired from the neighborhood.

The PHA did not respond for comment by press time.

However, in a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial published in 2014, PHA CEO Kelvin Jeremiah wrote that the Sharswood revitalization initiative is about empowering residents to be self-reliant through job training and placement.

Yet, despite his words, the people of Sharswood have spoken, and they are not feeling the self-reliance or empowerment that Jeremiah promised.

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