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Implosion of Housing Project Sparks the Redevelopment of Sharswood Neighborhood

blumberg redevelopmentThe Sharswood neighborhood is just north of Fairmount and Girard College, in North Philadelphia, just east of Brewerytown. Despite its location near Center City, Fairmount Park, and Temple University, Sharswood has seen little private development and has a greater than average amount of vacant land and buildings. One reason for that blight and stagnation is the fact that the Norman Blumberg Apartments has had a depressing effect on the surrounding neighborhood. The Blumberg apartments were built in the late 1960s to provide affordable housing to very low income residents. They consisted of two highrises for families, a highrise for senior residents, and several lowrise apartment buildings. Over the years, the buildings have become somewhat dilapidated and crime and drug use were much higher than average. This reduced demand for housing in the surrounding neighborhood, leaving a large amount of vacancy on surrounding blocks. Recently, the housing authority decided to demolish the Blumberg complex, except for the senior highrise building, and rebuild much of the Sharswood neighborhood with a mix of affordable and market rate housing. Part of the demolition included imploding the family highrise buildings this past Saturday, March 19th.

The redevelopment planned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority conforms to a neighborhood plan for the Sharswood and Brewerytown neighborhoods created by local community groups. It calls for the eventual construction of about 1,200 units of new housing, about 80% of which will be affordable housing, with the rest intended to be market rate housing. The housing will be a mix of rentals and homeownership units, to be built not just on the site of the Blumberg project, but also in the surrounding neighborhood. PHA has acquired about 1,300 properties in the surrounding community through eminent domain. Roughly six percent of those properties are currently occupied. Displaced residents will have the first opportunity to rent or purchase the new homes.

The new housing will be built in ten phases, with the first phase of rental units already underway across 24th Street from the Blumberg site. The plan includes new development along Ridge Avenue, which will include a new five-story headquarters for the PHA and new buildings which will have retail spaces and apartments along several largely vacant blocks of Ridge. The Blumberg site will include an extension of 23rd Street, which was stricken for two blocks when the Blumberg Apartments were built, and an extension of Bucknell Street running east to west.

This redevelopment has the potential to remake this section of North Philadelphia and connect the booming Temple University area with the booming Brewerytown neighborhood and Fairmount and Francisville. The PHA has done several successful redevelopments of housing projects in recent years. These redevelopments include housing for the lower middle class, as well as the poor, and tend to have very low crime rates, because those with recent criminal histories are prohibited from living in these new developments. All in all, it provides opportunity for private developers and real estate agents to help redevelop other parts of the nearby neighborhoods.

By, Gabriel Gottlieb