It’s no secret that stimulus funds have been going toward what those critical of the Obama administration have called “politically correct government waste”—projects like a National Resource Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, $100 million in green job training grants, and so on. The Great Recession’s ensuing stimulus has created a national focus on both preparing for the future and providing assistance for those needy though not normally a part of the national conversation. Several local projects in struggling Philly neighborhoods are just the beginning.
There’s a square block-sized construction yard at 72nd Street and Paschall Avenue. It’s a former public housing site that was torn down due to an infestation of drugs and crime. New units are going up and will be more than your average Philadelphia Housing Authority job—they’ll use locally created sustainable technology, such as solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and rainwater harvesting. In addition to the PHA, funds are going toward groups such as Project H.O.M.E. and the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, having secured money to create new, low-income city housing for homeless war veterans and seniors in the LGBT community, respectively.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Paschall Village site was held Aug. 12, but any initial excitement surrounding the new units was trounced by PHA Executive Director Carl Greene’s personal struggles. But despite them, the work has continued.
Of the $126 million the PHA got from the Federal Recovery Act, $13.9 million is going into this project, which advocates are hoping revitalizes the neighborhood. “We are proud to be transforming this formerly crime-ravaged neighborhood into what will be a safe, modern, efficient community,” Greene said at the time. “Paschall Village will provide an attractive network of open streets, which will create a greater sense of community and strengthen the neighborhood’s residential character.”
The Southwest Philly housing project is still a work in progress, but the potential is endless. It will be adjacent to a small park on one side, the Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School on the other. Solar panels will be used to heat the buildings’ water, which are expected to cut utility bills in half, though the units cost $3 million more than your average housing project. The technology was developed by Drexel University engineering professor Jin Wen and four students.
The William Way Senior Residences is a LGBT senior housing a project expected to be built up in the heart of the Gayborhood. It’ll be constructed in conjunction with the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and $7 million for the project was even included as part of the Pennsylvania State Senate’s Capital Budget Itemization Act of 2010/2011.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has publicly noted that older LGBT adults often face widespread housing discrimination. Poverty rates for gay men and lesbians are also significantly higher than for those of elderly straight individuals, according to a 2009 Williams Institute study.
“Never before has our government allocated such a large sum of money for a brick-and-mortar, LGBT-friendly project,” said Mark Segal, President of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund. “We still have a long way to go to make this project a reality, but [on Oct. 4] we took a big step.”
The house will be nondiscriminatory, and all are welcome to apply. On Oct. 13, William Way Residences held a town hall meeting in which this was discussed, the end result being that marketing campaigns will be used to specifically target low-income LGBT seniors. The campaign will be conducted by the William Way Foundation, a gay community center founded in 1974 whose home currently sits at 13th and Spruce streets.
On Venango Avenue in North Philly, just west of Temple Hospital, a number of new housing projects are going up with the help of Project H.O.M.E., the Salvation Army and PHA.
With the help of Neighborhood Stabilization Program Funds, 53 units will be built to house homeless, honorably discharged veterans, chronically homeless adults overcoming a history of mental illness and low-income individuals and families. The property is an old apartment building now affiliated with the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and just two blocks from the new Salvation Army Kroc Center. These units are purposely close to the center, where residents may earn their GED, get medical treatment and exercise.
“The property, when developed, will be 53 units and 25 of those units will be for individuals that are formerly homeless,” says Patricia Holland, Vice President for Services at Project H.O.M.E. “That includes veterans. Formerly homeless veterans are a priority of ours, especially those coming from the streets that were in transitional or emergency housing and are really ready to settle into a neighborhood and focus on other areas of their life, like stabilization and education, and can’t do that because they’re not stably housed.”
Exact numbers pertaining to homelessness are hard to come by, though Philadelphia’s Office of Supportive Housing found 430 homeless veterans in shelters between July 2006 and March 2007, 14 percent of which were women. The VA estimates there are 107,000 homeless veterans, nationally, on any given night and the Associated Press found in a 2007 poll that one in four homeless persons in the United States are veterans.
Nine-point-two million dollars for the project came from federal stimulus funds, with Project H.O.M.E. providing the rest, using a portion of $1.1 million donated from Leigh and John Middleton, who are part-owners of the Phillies. Mayor Nutter welcomed the announcement this fall, saying, “This project will turn a blighted building into a home for those seeking a fresh start…This, of course, is a national disgrace that those who served their country well have not been served well.”
Construction on the site will begin in spring 2011 and is expected to take seven months.
It’s about time.