North10 Philadelphia breaks ground on Be A Gem Crossing, a new affordable housing project
The new project will see 41 affordable apartments replace the Liberty Motel, which stood as one of the biggest catalysts for crime in and around the community.
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For many years, the former site of the Liberty Motel had long been a catalyst for crime throughout the Hunting Park/East Tioga community in North Philadelphia.
Now, a new effort is being done to transform the community into one of progress, wellness, and later, prosperity.
“With the help of many people… we decided to build 41 affordable homes for the people of this neighborhood, and open two community health centers — one by Temple and one by Dr. Ala Stanford of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium,” said H. Chase Lenfest, entrepreneur, philanthropist and Founder & Board Chair of North10 Philadelphia.
The new development is designed to serve low-income families with a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, along with a community room, and laundry facilities on each floor, and also includes a large outdoor courtyard that will allow residents to enjoy being outside in a safe and welcoming environment.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re really proud of this step today,” said Josh Klaris, executive director at North10 Philadelphia.
“This moment is a moment where we take stock and we honor the sacrifices and the effort that has taken to get us here,” he added.
The Be a Gem Crossing development is just the latest effort Lenfest has made to help communities, and particularly children in those communities.
In the late 1990s, Lenfest joined the Police Athletic League and about a decade later, built The Lenfest Center on North 10th Street to provide a range of innovative programs for neighborhood children and service options for adults.
“That was the beginning of the goals of trying to help out this community,” said Lenfest.
However, as years went by, he came to the realization that helping children at the Lenfest Center was not enough.
“For the kids to thrive, the whole community must strive,” he added.
After several years of criminal activity in and around the neighborhood, the new development will serve to turn around the image of the location.
“We call this [neighborhood] our home,” said Clayton Pickens, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. “Now, with the introduction of Be a Gem Crossing, we are seeing positive changes that will help our families, friends and children feel safe.”
Be a Gem Crossing is located across the street from Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, and will provide the hundreds of children who attend and live around the school with a safer surrounding area environment.
“They have a right to be in a safe place, they have a right to look across the street when they play to something that’s not desolate,” said Aliya Catanch-Bradley, principal at the school. “They have a right to not play on a blacktop, but to have playground equipment. They have the right to have all the liberty and all of the liberation of students all across our Commonwealth.”
As an educator, she noted that she is committed to serving the children, and also and being an advocate for the community.
Robin Weissmann, CEO of the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency (PHFA) and lead funder for the project, said she was thrilled to take part in the new effort.
“I’m so excited about it, and I hope there’s a contagion effect, where we just expand and grow,” she said.
Lenfest also noted that the work being done with the grand opening of this particular project is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Surviving is the goal here, whereas thriving is an obstacle. And it’s our job to change that piece by piece,” he said.