City’s bid for grant calls for overhaul of Norris homes

New proposal would replace Norris homes with new housing, retail and park space.

A $30 million grant that would allow for the removal and redevelopment of a North Central Philadelphia public-housing community located near Main Campus may be in the works for the City of Philadelphia.

The Norris Apartments, which contain 147 low-income housing units between Berks and Norris streets east of Main Campus, are the subject of a proposal to be torn down and replaced with 297 mixed income Gold-LEED certified homes, a 10,000 square-foot workforce development center, an 8,000 square-foot community center, 2,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 75 underground parking spaces and a new one-acre community park.

The proposal is an extension of the $30 million CHOICE Neighborhood Improvement Grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that Philadelphia is one of six finalists for.

Sen. Bob Casey made the announcement under the Temple Regional Rail station abutting the Norris Apartments last week, saying that the $30 million grant would create 600 construction and 300 permanent jobs and would leverage an additional $125 million in funding toward transformative redevelopment in North Central Philadelphia.

The North Central redevelopment plan is backed by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development and Temple, which will all be playing key roles if Philadelphia wins the five-year grant.

Temple’s has promised $1.2 million toward neighborhood improvement programs set to be dispersed during a period of five years and contingent upon receipt of the $30 million grant. If Philadelphia receives the grant, Temple will be partnering with EducationWorks to provide high school training programs that would offer afterschool tutoring, college and career training as well as counseling to residents in the newly built homes. Temple would also be creating a new position of CHOICE neighborhoods coordinator.

“As the lead education partner we’re really responsible for coordinating the activities of all the partners and that includes the school district, Philadelphia Health Management Corporation and the United Way who are focused on helping child care centers improve their capacity,” Assistant Vice President of Community Relations and Economic Development Beverly Coleman said. “Coordination is on a large part of the services that we would provide. We also work closely with the school district to track the progress of youth from Norris homes.”

The plan was originally developed by Asociacion de Puertorriquenos en Marcha, a Latino-based community nonprofit that has been in the North Central Philadelphia community for 45 years.

“When this opportunity came we just thought it was perfect to make this a choice neighborhood where people want to live in,” said Nilda Ruiz, president and chief executive officer of APM. “I think we’re getting there … people are looking at it and wanting to live here so the grant just seemed to fit our mission and what our vision is for this area.”

APM recently opened the Paseo-Verde apartments, a mixed-income complex that contains 53 apartments located across the regional rail tracks from the Norris Apartments.

If Philadelphia receives the grant, APM would be responsible for relocating residents to housing units during the development and working to help bring relocated residents back into the neighborhood once the affordable housing units are built.

“We would relocate them to other properties. We have some rental units. So if we have any vacancies we could move them there,” said Ruiz. “They also will get a voucher and they can also chose where they want to go.”

Donna Richardson, president of the Norris Apartments’ tenant council and resident of North 10th street across from Norris Apartments, has been involved in the ongoing discussions for the redevelopment proposal and relocation of tenants.

“The residents have truly, truly put their trust. I mean, over 30 years they [had] no trust in PHA and Temple,” Richardson said. “But now they’re building a relationship and I like to see that relationship continue and no one betray the residents and make them feel like all hope is gone.”

If implemented, the PHA-owned 297 affordable mixed income housing units would be set at the market rate and qualified families would be provided vouchers and down payment assistance.

If Philadelphia is not selected, APM will continue with its plans to do community redevelopment and beautification in North Philadelphia, Ruiz said.

“If we don’t get it then maybe we’re talking another 10-15 years because it takes time,” said Ruiz.

Officials have estimated the winner will be announced in three to six months with a tour of where the proposed development will take place by officials from Washington scheduled April 8.

“You have a lot of good families here and you have a lot of working families,” Richardson said. “[There] are a lot of people who are sitting off of five generations. You don’t have that in a lot of places, so we’re fine with [taking the houses] down and bringing them back up as long as the residents are their main concern.”

Sarai Flores can be reached at

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