There is a rowhouse tucked down a small street called Dakota off 11th, north of Main Campus. It is narrow, straight, brick and tall. It was long abandoned, boarded and ransacked and then boarded again. On this day, the process of ransacking seems to have begun again.
Temple’s half-million dollar Employee Home Ownership Program, unveiled last week, grants between $4,000 and $5,000 in forgivable loans toward the purchase of single-family houses for Temple’s 5,700 full-time employees. They’re eligible to receive up to $17,000 in funding towards the purchase of homes in the eight zip codes that immediately surround Temple’s portion of North Broad Street.
The program is designed to help Temple employees further ground themselves in the neighborhoods around the university. Not all the neighborhoods. Not yet. Blocks in this town change quickly, but time won’t erase Dakota’s scars soon.
More than one in 12 full-time Temple employees already live in those surrounding communities. Of those 500 employees, half are renters. Those 250 or so who rent are the primary target of the program, President Ann Weaver Hart said in a press conference last week. People who already live in North Philadelphia can become homeowners in North Philadelphia. It is said they will add stability.
Early one morning last June, there was a triple homicide on Oxford Street, a few blocks east of Main Campus, outside of a crumbling rowhome block. You can own your own crime scene with Temple’s help.
THE PROGRAM STARTS ELSEWHERE
Some were leery of this proposition, like many were skeptical of a nearly identical initiative begun by the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s. Pennsylvania State Sen. Shirley Kitchen let her hesitance be known last week, questioning whether the surrounding community knew enough about the program for it to begin.
She’s a politician. She was hedging. Temple carts around the same community leaders for every decision like this. Hart won’t be using a bullhorn in Norris Square anytime soon. There isn’t anything for the surrounding neighborhoods to decide.
THE IMPORTANCE IT WILL HAVE
The most important part of the program is this. The home must be used as the owner’s primary residence for the extent of the loan.
The loans will be forgiven at a rate of $1,000 per year, which means to fulfill contractual obligations, the owner will have to stick around for at least four years. So, while that means there won’t be wild development, it also means the process will be slow. It’s a move of little meaning beyond what it might suggest for the future. Don’t expect your literature professor to move into the Norris Apartments any time soon.
This won’t shape the neighborhood. There will be a handful of new homeowners, which is beautiful. But, the ground will remain unshaken. 11th and Dakota will stay the same, or as near to the same as any city block might be expected to remain. Police will respond to a shooting at Sixth and Oxford again. Police will have to respond to a lot of things.
Still, the program is unquestionably good. But the press releases will be filed away until a home-buying Temple employee can be paraded around. Small moves. When Penn debuted its program, it was called “Penntrification.” Ten years later, it’s problematic to label Penn’s Community Housing Program as simply gentrifying. This is another way Temple’s program will copy Penn’s. It will be criticized. It will be good. It will be slow.
Christopher Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.