Housing renovations stir local fears

Gratz Street residents organized after being told of temporary relocation.

Columbus Property Management, a nonprofit corporation that is part of Mission First Housing Group, will be conducting renovation on properties on the even side of North Gratz Street from May until September. The properties are a part of the 23 low-income housing units the development corporation owns in the North Central Philadelphia area.

The properties, located 12 minutes from Temple’s Main Campus and steps away from the Church of the Advocate on 18th and Diamond streets, are one of the few housing developments still inhabited by residents of the neighborhood.

The scheduled renovation of the properties has left many residents of the neighborhood upset in the belief that, after renovations, they will not be allowed to return and the properties will be rent out to Temple students, which Columbus Property denies.

Upon hearing about the scheduled renovation, residents formed the Black Communities United Coalition, a grassroots organization aiming to fight what residents deem a “re-gentrification,” coming out of the purchase of old properties that are rented at higher prices to Temple students.

Irvin Odrick, assistant in the youth program at the Church of the Advocate was a former resident on the 2100 block of North Gratz Street in 2009 and left because he could not afford the rent.

“What they’re supposed to be doing is fixing them back up…from my understanding, if they have outstanding bills they’re not going to bring them back,” Odrick said. “We all know they’re going to put students in there.”

Kemah Washington, the senior warden at the Church of the Advocate who has been with the church since 1962, has seen the surrounding community change drastically over the years. Washington’s mother Christine created the nonprofit Advocate Community Development Corporation in 1968 and went on to build 300 low-income housing units throughout North Central Philadelphia for the physically challenged, disabled and elderly before she stepped down in 2011 from being president.

“Back in the ‘60s, Temple and my dad had an unwritten pact: The church’s boundaries were from 22nd [Street] to Broad Street and from Lehigh [Avenue] to Montgomery [Avenue],” Kemah Washington said. “Temple didn’t actually expand past that point.”

Michael Washington, co-chair of Advocate Community Development Corporation is also disappointed by the continuous expansion of Main Campus that has pushed many locals out.

“I would be the first to say that it really pains me to see that North Central Philadelphia has become a Temple town,” Michael Washington said. “It has really left its indigenous people behind.”

The properties on North Gratz Street were taken over by Columbus Property Management in 2012 in order to keep them as low-income housing units. The units are rented out to individuals or families who make $42,600 or below annually. The renovation in the units will be minor and are being done in order to provide upgrades so the units will be what officials call “functional in the long term.”

“I think what we probably need to do is have our property managers reach back out to [the residents],” said Mark Dietcher, director of business development at Columbus Property Management. “It sounds like there are some things not being communicated correctly. But every resident will be allowed to move back into their [unit].”

Columbus Property Management will be making paid arrangements for residents during the renovation to prevent them being displaced and as long as residents are in compliance with their lease, they will be allowed to move back.

“We’re forbidden to rent to full-time students. It’s a prohibition,” Dietcher said.

Several attempts were made by The Temple News to contact the residents of North Gratz Street, but residents refused to comment.

Sarai Flores can be reached at sarai.abisag.flores@temple.edu. 

1 Comment

  1. This guy can’t be serious with his “indigenous” comment. Plus, in what major city is it reasonable to expect a church’s boundaries to encompass 72 square blocks?

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