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Property Seizures, Relocations Expected From PHA's North Philly Plan

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --- City officials are moving ahead with an ambitious, ten-year plan to remake a blighted neighborhood in North Philadelphia. But as a result, hundreds of families will be relocated and hundreds of properties will be seized by the city.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority wants to demolish two blighted, high-rise towers in the neighborhood known as Sharswood, and put up townhomes in their place.

But PHA has grander plans -- to acquire 1300 mostly vacant properties around the public housing in order to remake the entire neighborhood.

"This is the largest and most significant project that the housing authority has undertaken in... ever," PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah says.

Jeremiah testified about the ambitious plan to City Council's Rules Committee. He said eventually Sharswood will have 1,200 new housing units, a half-million square feet of commercial and retail space, a new school, a new recreation center and new athletic fields.

Jeremiah said all of this will be bringing new hope to one of Philadelphia's most destitute neighborhoods.

"The families at and around (the public housing towers) have heard this from guys in blue suits like mine for well over two decades. It's important for us to deliver on this for all of them," he said. "They can't wait."

Some of those who would lose their properties testified, calling the plan a 'land grab' by the city. But Jeremiah insisted this project needs to be done.

"No family frankly should live under the conditions that our families at Blumberg/Sharswood live in. It offends my sensibilities that a community that is so close to where we are (City Hall) right now would be in such despair," he said. "So we believe that we have to move quickly. And if not us, then whom?"

The PHA chief said 363 families will be relocated. Brian Abernathy, head of the city's Redevelopment Authority, said they will be given new housing.

"We're doing our best to find appropriate locations," Abernathy said. "Residents who are displaced will be given right of first refusal for the new development."

The city council committee approved a measure that allows PHA to acquire the properties, many of which have been vacant for years and now owned by the city. The bill now goes to the full council for a vote on the measure.

The Sharswood neighborhood generally runs from Cecil B. Moore Avenue to Girard Avenue, from Ridge Avenue to 27th Street.

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