The Philadelphia Housing Authority completed the third phase of construction last spring to expand the Norris Apartments development, located on 11th Street near Norris and Diamond, to include a community center and homes for long-term homeowners.
The construction was part of the PHA’s North Central Choice Neighborhood: Housing Plan, a five-phase project to provide energy-efficient and affordable housing in North Central Philadelphia. PHA began the project in 2014 and it will create 267 rental units and 30 homeownership units when completed, The Temple News reported.
Altogether, the five-phase project will cost $125 million to complete, $30 million comes from a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant the city received from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014, The Temple News reported.
PHA began the project’s third phase in 2019, which forced residents of the block to temporarily relocate, said Norris Community Council president Donna Richardson. Over the past two years, the PHA has provided resources to help residents return to their original home locations.
“We gave an opportunity for anyone to return that wanted to return,” Richardson said. “We provided moving trucks, paid for their connection fees, and we also gave them a stipend, according to the variable size of their moves.”
Construction throughout the third phase went smoothly despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, like move-ins and community initiatives being slightly stalled, Richardson said.
The north section of the block along Diamond Street is still under construction, but residents who will be permanent homeowners have already returned to the area, Richardson added.
The relationship between Temple University and the Norris Apartments development is reciprocal because some residents use Temple services for leisure or use the university for employment, Richardson said.
“Temple looks out for us,” said Gayle Sorrell, a four-year resident of the original Norris Apartments, separate from Phase III of the housing plan. “They take our trash out for us. They provide two trash days instead of one, which is a plus, and they also let us use their library.”
Sorrell believes the Norris Apartments development’s proximity to Temple will encourage Philadelphians, especially those with families, to take advantage of educational opportunities, she added.
“These houses give kids that are underprivileged a chance to visit the college to see how school life can be, and it encourages them,” Sorrell said.
Despite the benefits of living close to Temple’s Main Campus, Sorrel and other Norris Apartments residents have mixed feelings about living near Temple students, citing their general lack of respect every year and tendencies to be loud and litter.
Temple students also make a lot of noise at night, like by racing cars and hanging out in nearby parking lots at midnight, Richardson said.
“Our residents have to work and have to sleep,” Richardson said. “I do not like calling the Temple Police. I just want them to be quiet.”
Temple students have damaged the Norris Apartments development’s property by using it for recreational purposes, like breaking the development’s railings by skateboarding on them, Richardson added.
Students have also disrespected residents and PHA workers themselves by leaving their trash and furniture in the development’s empty lots, said Reddick Abdul, a PHA employee.
“They are only here for the school semester, then they go home,” Abdul said. “I clean up a lot behind these students. They just throw their food and things on the street. I’ve never seen rats as big as the ones around here.”
Temple expects its students to conduct themselves with honesty, integrity, civility and citizenship, whether on or off campus, wrote university spokesperson Stephen Orbanek in an email to The Temple News.
Community members can submit a report to the Department of Student Conduct and Community Standards if they experience negative behavior from Temple students, Orbanek said. The complaint may result in an investigation by the Student Conduct Administrator.
William Boyer, chief of staff for Temple Student Government, wants Temple students to take responsibility and ownership of the way they treat the North Central community, he said.
“This is not just our community, it’s a community of North Philadelphia and Philadelphia in general,” Boyer said. “We need to respect it, and we need to be good neighbors.”
Richardson and Abdul believe change will occur when Temple students begin to embrace the North Central neighborhood as a shared space, not a temporary place for enjoyment.
“I think when we get students it takes them a while to realize that this is a community,” Richardson said. “They see it as a school and that’s it, they think what they can do at their own homes, they can do in this community.”
Phase V of the North Central Choice Neighborhood’s Housing Plan is currently under construction on 10th Street, but is expected to be completed towards the end of this year, Richardson said. Phase V includes the construction of PHA housing as well as the NC Five apartment building, set to open in early October, Richardson said.