A Divided District

Residents say Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez turned her back on them.

By Aaron Kase
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Apr. 8, 2010

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The neighborhood looks like a diversity officer’s dream. White, black and Hispanic people can all be spotted on the same block. Competing Latin and punk music blares out of neighboring houses while hip-hop blasts from a car cruising down the street.

It’s also a poor neighborhood. According to 2007 census estimates, the median income is $16,237, and 47 percent of the community lives below poverty level.

The economics of the area show up in its considerable amount of vacant land. In between houses, schools and old factories lies plot after plot of unused space, the usual mixture of grass and concrete, gravel, glass and trash. In total, nearly 25 percent of the land in the neighborhood is empty.

Bounded by Girard and Diamond and Front and 10th Street, in places the neighborhood is called Norris Square, Ludlow, West Kensington or Old Kensington. Eastern North Philadelphia is a helpful blanket term to cover the whole area.

“Why don’t you just call it Northern Liberties II?” says resident Freddie Cuevas, drinking a Corona across the street from the Al-Asqa Islamic Society at Germantown and Jefferson. He’s only half-joking.

Gentrification is hitting the neighborhood hard, with pressure coming from Northern Liberties to the South, Fishtown to the East, and Temple University to the west. According to the Eastern North Philadelphia Coalition (ENPC), a group of churches, community groups and civic associations, the price for a typical house has risen from about $40,000 in 2001 to $250,000 or more in 2007.

“My Dad bought a house for seven grand in the 1970s,” Cuevas says. “Now it costs $250,000. There’s lots of vacant land but you can’t buy it. It’s too expensive.”

Year of decline and neglect have left the neighborhood short of vibrant public spaces, thriving businesses and local jobs and services.  Meanwhile, development pressure from surrounding neighborhoods is ratcheting up housing prices and pushing out longtime residents.

ENPC has a plan to tackle both problems at once, to acquire vacant land to revitalize the area while maintaining affordable housing for local residents. However, they depend on the city to hand over the land, and they say Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is giving them the cold shoulder.

“She’s afraid to meet with her constituents for some reason,” says Nora Lichtash, a member of ENCP’s leadership team.  “We feel like she should meet with us and tell us why she can or can’t do this.”

ENCP wants to create a community land trust, in which the community would own the land and lease it to groups providing affordable housing, local businesses, and green space. They’ve made a plan, identified parcels to develop, and want the city to transfer certain vacant lots and buy others using Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) money.

Land trusts can be effective in combating gentrification in the right circumstances, says Temple Professor Carolyn Adams. “A community that creates a land trust is trying to take a particular geographic location out of the marketplace so that its price is not affected by any upward movement in market values that might ultimately force gentrification in the community,” she says.

“There has to be a responsible and cohesive organization that sets out to ID an area, agrees that it’s an area they want to take out of the market, and that will work with property owners so the trust owns the land and the owners own the structures. You have to have a good quality organization that is coherent and can act as a permanent steward.”

ENCP, wanting to be that steward, held a community meeting about the land trust March 23 at Temple Presbyterian Church at 7th and Thompson, attended by nearly 200 people. Staffer Justin Diberardinis attended in Quiñones-Sánchez’s place, but the ENCP wasn’t satisfied and created fliers and postcards documenting the councilwoman’s absence. On March 25, members descended on her office in City Hall to demand her attention, but they missed her by five minutes.

Quiñones-Sánchez is not amused by the coalition’s antics. “I meet with them every three months. I’ve been very supportive of their proposals. I told them the month before I couldn’t attend because of budget hearings in light of the fact that the issue wasn’t time sensitive,” she says.

She controls $4.2 million in NTI funds and says she is willing to use it for ENCP’s goals. However, Mayor Nutter has temporarily frozen the funds pending a review by the City Controller.

“Am I willing to spend it? I have, and I will be,” she says. 

In fact, the only NTI funds released by the councilwoman before the freeze were to the Evelyn Sanders Townhouses at 9th and Indiana through Women’s Community Revitalization Project, a member group of ENCP of which Lichtash is the director.
Further complicating matters, community development group Association Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), is active in the area and may be competing for some of the same land parcels.

“APM just got nationally funded. They may already have projects on line,” Quiñones-Sánchez says.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 8, 2010 at 05:14PM

“sanchez doesnt want to help the people becuase her family owns 50 bodegas, helping the hood people is not her goal ,he goal is to spend 20yr in council to get fat a pension,help her bodega family,she needs to be voted out of office,all of city council needs to go,the plan in council is to remove the less fortunatefrom hoods like this so people with money moves back to the city, then they will lower taxes for them,vote them out”

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2. Christopher Somers said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 06:11AM

“This area certainly has seen a lot of growth over the last 5 years. The trends stated in the article are correct with Northern Liberties growing so much and demand for Temple housing increasing this section which consists of 19122 and 19133 has benefitted. We sell a lot of real estate in this area as well as own real estate personally. I am proud of being part of the community and helping the transformation to growth and propserity. Some blocks and certain sections have a long way to go, especially in 19133. The community needs all the help it can get. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming quarters with the coalition and politics.”

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3. roma258 said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 09:31AM

“This land trust sounds like a terrible idea. Take a geographic location out of the marketplace? Why would you want to resist investment, especially in an area that's 25 percent vacant? Why would you want to prevent middle class residents from moving back into this city? Stuff like this blows my mind.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:18AM

“I own property in 19133 area code, when it comes to help in getting our neighborhood park cleaned up or for block captains, APM, HACE and Hartranft all say we are not in their service area. We feel abandoned, unrepresented even by our council woman - whom I helped campaign for. Now I see that in fact that was a mistake one I will not make again. I agree that all City council members should be removed as well as those in power in the Redevelopment Authority. They are all in cohouts to gentrify Philadelphia and push longtime Latinos and African Americans out. I for one am not going anywhere! You've picked the wrong Latina to be messing with!”

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5. Anonymous said... on Apr 9, 2010 at 02:23PM

“WCRP has an amazing track record for developing successful affordable housing communities and offering a number of services to the residents, mostly by taking city contracts. They take so many women and their children off the streets and give them a second chance. You wouldn't be taking the land out of the marketplace, you would be assuring that the people who already live there have a chance to stay there in a new and improved environment. That vacant land would no longer be vacant. Working for a developer, I believe it's important that Fishtown and temple etc, continue to thrive, they bring so much to this city, but not at the expense of all of the existing residents. Much of the reason that that area is so "hipster" is that that population values the diversity that already exists there, and the rents are mildly affordable, but not for long...”

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6. Please Stop Kidding Me said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 04:15PM

“"Anonymous # 4 and 5" were obviously written by Nora Lichtash and Co.
She is a carpet bagger trying to bully her way into new neighborhoods because she's lost credbility where she used to be. She's beating up your councilwoman and going to sell you low income housing to destabilize your neighborhood and has her heart set on re-slumming the slums. I don't know who she's really working for but the paper's being fooled and missed the really big news. Dateline: Mayor's Reception Room City Hall: Thursday,April 9, 2010: SANCHEZ GIVES LICHTASH 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS. Look it up. And it was awarded a while ago. She knw that all along. This is a disgusting display of back biting ingratitude. Nora Lichtash is a scheming dirty-figjhter but she's not fooling all of the people all of the time.”

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7. Brooke said... on Apr 12, 2010 at 02:15PM

“I am a real estate agent and can vouch that the average price home in that area is *not* $250,000 and wonder why 2007 is used when data from 2008 and 2009 is readily available. To report that without verifying that is also bad journalism.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Apr 12, 2010 at 02:44PM

“The article fails to point out that the area west of Germantown Ave. to 10th St. is in Darrell Clarke's district. Whole different ballgame. Why no interviews with Clarke?”

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9. Anonymous said... on Apr 12, 2010 at 05:17PM

“While this article focuses on Councilwoman Sanchez, the elected official that has turned his back on the people the most is Angel Cruz. There are reports coming from some of the constituents that his chief of staff has gotten several of their properties deeded in his name when they showed up to his office to get assistance with the deeding process. This election year does provide an opportunity for change, by way of Jonathan Ramos. He will end the corruption and the crime that is pervasive in the district, and will serve the people as opposed to feeling that they should serve him. http://ramosforpa180.com”

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