Community Ventures, in association with the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia (RDA), the Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD), and South Philly H.O.M.E.S., recently broke ground on a fairly significant project in Point Breeze. In two developments that will produce eleven housing units over lots covering 1626-36 Federal St., and 1218-28 S. 17th St., Community Ventures will turn two currently vacant, long-blighted lots, into some of the most attractive housing in the neighborhood.

View of the 17th St. site, looking south toward Latona St.

Shmancy rendering of the 17th St. site, looking north toward Manton St.

Not bad, eh?

The prices on these homes will range between $125K and $250K, with an average sales price of about $173K. Eight of the units will target buyers earning $50K or less per year, while three will target buyers earning up to $75K. We here at Naked Philly support affordable housing, and think this project is a wonderful display that affordable housing doesn’t have to look boring, ugly, or cookie-cutter. On its face, this project is a tremendous step forward for the Point Breeze neighborhood, and affordable housing in general in Philadelphia.

BUT… we have a couple of questions/complaints/red flags that we have to bring up here, or we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.

At the groundbreaking, Anna Verna said, “I have a special love for Point Breeze; I was born and raised in this community.” If only, Mrs. Verna, you were somehow in a position of power and influence these past few decades as Point Breeze has sunk into poverty and blight. If only you could have somehow shown your love by investing time, energy, and public dollars into making Point Breeze a desirable place to live. If only… wait- Verna’s the City Council President? She’s been on City Council since the mid-seventies? Well, then. If Anna Verna ever tells you she has a special love for you, do yourself a favor and turn around and start running. Fast.

Shortly after a photo-op, we heard Mayor Nutter say, “Let the people who are actually going to do something get on the site now.” We’re not mind-readers (yet), so we don’t know what the Mayor was thinking, but if the Mayor is looking for “people who are actually going to do something,” we would politely ask him to TAKE A LOOK AROUND. New construction and renovation is everywhere in Point Breeze, particularly on the northern and eastern edges. Want more “do something” people operating in PB, Mr. Mayor? Howzabout you make a stronger effort to sell the hundreds of lots owned by the City in Point Breeze? Or perhaps you could persuade some churches in the neighborhood to sell off their vacant land instead of sitting on it without paying taxes? Plenty of developers really want to contribute to the development of the countless vacant, blighted lots in Point Breeze if they could only get their hands on those lots. We turn it back to you, Mr. Mayor. Please do something!

These homes are being funded with Federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars, with the final tab coming to nearly $3.8M. While about $1.9M of that number is expected to be repaid through the sale of the homes, these houses are still costing taxpayers nearly $2M, with construction costs at approximately $345K per house! We understand that with public money comes a absurdly high building standards, but $345K per house?!? Looking at the cost estimates, we have some questions about how this public money is being used. For example, the cost estimates cite a Site Improvements expense of $364K. Hm, sounds kind of high. By our calculations, that number should be more like, say, $0. How about $146K for Architecture? Or $70K for Engineering? We’re not builders, but these numbers don’t seem to make intuitive sense, and that’s without considering the built-in line item of $201K for Builder Profit & Overhead.

Our hope is that these beautiful buildings going up right next to Baynard’s Bar will hasten its demise, as it is one of the biggest nuisance bars in the neighborhood. We’re confident that the overwhelming majority of neighbors would welcome that addition by subtraction.

Make no mistake, we’re pleased as punch to see these lots developed. What we can’t stand is for our tax dollars to be wasted and our City’s leaders not doing enough to ensure that greater development occurs in a neighborhood that desperately needs it. Think we have a point? Make yourself heard and email Council President Verna or Mayor Nutter. We’re sure they will be thrilled to hear from you.