W. Phila. residents force housing deal with PHA: Philadelphia (PA) Daily News, 9/22/05

By Earni Young

Pressure from a group of angry West Philadelphia homeowners forced City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell and the Philadelphia Housing Authority to compromise on plans to condemn 377 properties for a public housing development.

Blackwell agreed that 32 owner-occupied homes and more than two dozen other properties included in the bill before City Council will not be seized unless the owners want to sell. Her announcement defused a potentially contentious public hearing.

"This is a great victory for us," said the Rev. Terrence Carl Hensford, of Ward A.M.E. Church. Hensford hosted two community meetings at his church to calm the anger and fear that disrupted a Sept. 15 hearing before City Council.

Lisa Jones, one of the affected homeowners, applauded the decision. Jones said she and the other homeowners need more time and more information about the benefits they are entitled to receive in exchange for their properties.

"We need to sit down and chew on this," Jones said. "These are our homes."

PHA Executive Director Carl Greene said he suggested the compromise to avoid a repeat of last week's outcry and possibly delay passage of the bill. PHA needs the legislation approved in time to apply next month for Low Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the $46 million project.

"We felt that it would contribute more to the success of the project for us to be good neighbors," Greene said. He said PHA could work around occupied homes.

The Redevelopment Authority is acquiring the properties for the PHA, for a proposed expansion of the Lucien E. Blackwell Homes. The expansion will add 60 new homes and 100 rental units in an area bordered by 40th and 44th streets and Haverford and Lancaster avenues.

Herb Wetzel, RDA executive director, said the agency will honor Blackwell's promise as it has for other Council members.

Property owners complained they weren't notified of the city's plans until a day or two before the first hearing. It's a complaint that often is raised around the city's eminent domain process.

In this case, Blackwell blamed the oversight on miscommunication among the city agencies over the issue of community meetings. But she also believes the rancor expressed in Council and at smaller meetings at Ward A.M.E. was rooted in unease over the city's decision to take in Katrina evacuees from New Orleans.

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