Sharswood Development: Housing Authority Plans Are Causing Controversy, Implosion Date Set for Blumberg Apartments
According to Hidden City Philadelphia, a 10-year-long redevelopment project priced at approximately $500 million is underway in the Sharswood section of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will tear down Norman Blumberg Apartments and in its place construct more than 1,000 single-family housing units.
But this development is not without its share of controversy. The PHA will also be appropriating at least 372 nearby structures, including hundreds of row houses and more than two dozen commercial properties along Ridge Avenue and more than a thousand vacant lots over 40 city blocks. This has preservationists riled up due to the community’s history as a brewing mecca, its Jazz Age influence and its importance during the Civil Rights movement.
In December of last year, PHA officials announced that they have yet to decide which edifices they will demolish and which ones they will restore.
“We’re going to be looking at buildings on a case-by-case basis,” PHA spokesperson Nichole Tillman told Hidden City. “We are committed to balancing the need to develop affordable housing with the needs of historic preservation.”
The PHA, however, has yet to formally complete Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), which requires the organization to consider the ramifications the project might have on any historical landmark or building.
Amy Lambert, a graduate student and member of the Penn Preservation Program, expressed her mounting displeasure with the PHA’s development.
“We need to define preservation and the cultural landscape for them so they know that what we want is not incongruent with what they’re doing in Sharswood,” she said according to the Hidden City report. “PHA says it’s committed to historic preservation, but I don’t think they know what that term means.”
Many are concerned that the PHA will exploit the supposedly neglected nature of the neighborhood in order to justify their business venture.
“[PHA’s] language at community meetings is always that the neighborhood is beyond repair,” said Molly Lester, co-chair of Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance.
Other skeptics point to the PHA’s lack of experience in development beyond affordable housing. Inga Saffron of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote,
“In recent years, PHA has done its best work on the tabula rasa sites it created after demolishing high-rise towers. But critics say the agency is less adept at managing infill projects in existing neighborhoods. That’s the kind of sensitive development that Sharswood’s gap-toothed, 19th-century blocks need.”
At least 73 of the properties in Sharswood subject to appropriation are currently occupied by residents and local business owners. The PHA has assured them that they will provide financial assistance for relocation efforts. But the locals’ concerns have not been allayed.
“Where am I supposed to go?” Kevin Polanco, owner of a convenience store and two housing units at the intersection of 24th and Oxford Streets, told Hidden City. “I have two daughters who depend on the income from that business. I have employees with families [who] depend on that income. We don’t want to leave.”
According to Curbed Philly, the Norman Blumberg Apartments will be destroyed in keeping with the PHA’s plans for the North Philadelphia neighborhood. Two of the three high rises will be imploded at 7:15 AM on March 19th, leaving one tower intact to serve as senior citizen housing. The development of the neighborhood is being headed by Domus.
Citizens put out by the implosion have been awarded the right to return, absolutely, to the neighborhood, as per the Norman Blumberg Apartments Multi-Family Section 18 Relocation Plan from June 2015. New low rise units are already underway just across the street from the current Norman Blumberg site.