Source: Philadelphia Tribune
Byline: Ayana Jones
Date: 4/21/2017

A renovated apartment building is being hailed as a way to preserve affordable housing in Philadelphia’s changing Mantua neighborhood.

Officials cut the ribbon this week on the renovated Mt. Vernon Manor II apartments, a 46-unit development located at 34th and Wallace streets in Mantua. The apartments had been vacant since 2013 and were formerly blighted and uninhabitable.

The $13 million redevelopment project is a continuation of the We Are Mantua neighborhood plan created by community stakeholders, including nonprofit partner Mt. Vernon Manor, Inc.

Michael Thorpe, chairman of the Mt. Vernon Manor Board, said the renovated apartments provide a critical housing option for low- to moderate-income residents.

“Where it used be an eyesore within the community, now it’s a beautiful, well-maintained project with the intent of providing affordability for people to be able to stay within the community that they lived in,” Thorpe said.

“Mantua is changing in the flux of a whole lot of different investment that may not have the intent of affordability,” he said. “So this is critical for people to have an option.“

The renovated one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are Energy Star-certified to ensure low utility and operating costs for the residents. Units have washers and dryers, ceramic tile floors, central air conditioning and video camera doorbell entry systems.

The project was supported by mix of private and government funding.

Brian Hudson, Philadelphia Housing Finance Authority senior executive director and CEO, said he when he lobbies members of Congress, he can use Mt. Vernon II as an example of how tax credits can impact communities.

“This is an example of what we want to showcase in D.C., of how it has transformed the neighborhood and allowed individuals to live where they grew up and where they want to live,” Hudson said. “We are going to be on the offensive in showing Congress how we use tax credits to transform neighborhoods like this.”

The project was supported by low-income tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. The tax credits were purchased by TD Bank who made an equity investment of $10.3 million.

Kelvin Jeremiah, president and CEO, Philadelphia Housing Authority, highlighted the need for more federal investment in affordable housing.

“At a time of shrinking resources where there appears to be growing disinvestment in affordable housing, we cannot build strong, stable, sustainable communities without federal investments,” Jeremiah said.

The development will receive $3.5 million in support from PHA, through 15 Housing Choice Vouchers. The vouchers enable 15 families to reside at Mt. Vernon Manor II.

“Those $3.5 million dollars is a federal investment right into this neighborhood. We want more federal investments, not less,” Jeremiah stressed.

Fred Purnell, deputy director for Housing and Community Development, said the apartments will remain affordable even as rental and sales values in the community continue to rise.

“This neighborhood is in the process of transformation,” Purnell said. “The increase in housing developments to cater to the area university students and staffs created a gap for individuals in need for affordable quality housing. Mt. Vernon Manor II will help fill that gap.”

Manuta is located in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone. The Obama administration announced the Promise Zone initiative in 2014 as an effort to support neighborhoods that face challenges due to persistent poverty.

“Mantua is a strong community and a community with civic engagement and community organizing,” said Greg Heller, executive director, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

“It’s a community in flux,” he said. “There’s a lot of change coming to Mantua and were committed to working with you to make sure that as Manuta grows and becomes prosperous that it happens in a way that continues to be affordable and equitable and represents the people that have worked so hard to make this a great community.”

Larry Gray said he was thankful to be a resident at Mt. Vernon Manor II. He said the units are very comfortable, safe and clean.

“That’s what you want when you lay your head down,” Gray said.

The Redevelopment Authority invested $1.2 million in the development. The project was also supported by a $2.7 million construction loan from the Reinvestment Fund and a $400,000 loan from the Loan Initiatives Corp.