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Paul Nowell and his family prepare to move in.Photo: Hector Davila Jr. / AL DÍA News
Paul Nowell and his family prepare to move in. Photo: Hector Davila Jr./AL DÍA News

Former homeless families move into new Community Land Trust housing

Philadelphia Housing Authority gifts renovated houses to two families for the holidays, advocates ask for more.

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Paul Nowell and Jannie Mitchell, two former Philadelphia encampment participants, received the keys to their new homes as part of a previous agreement held by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

“It is a great feeling, and I’m full of excitement. This is a blessing, I think it is a perfect time and I’m ready to settle in,” said Nowell.

Nowell’s biggest concern this winter was finding a place for his son Noah to stay out of the cold, and somewhere to eat a good homemade meal. He says more homes are definitely needed.

Kelvin Jeremiah, president & CEO of PHA along with Tumar Alexander, managing director of the City of Philadelphia conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 21, to officially welcome Noelle and Mitchell to Westmont St.

“The goal of this effort was to afford the encampment leaders an opportunity to establish the land trust and build the capacity of the organization to effectively manage and maintain the affordable units over time,” said Jeremiah.

The nine houses, negotiated by founder Jennifer Bennetch under the Philadelphia Community Land Trust deal in Oct. 2020, soon will see seven additional families moving in.

Bennetch was not present for the PHA press conference due to feeling unwell. On her behalf, Ruth Birchette, founder of the Heritage Community Development Association, shared a few words.

Birchette shared high praise for PHA’s staff and Bennetch for their ability to move from “conflict to resolution” with the new homes as a symbol of that collaboration. Still, she took the opportunity to gracefully challenge the deals.

“I thank everyone involved with the work. But, I charge you Jeremiah to keep talking [to officials] because the City of Philadelphia has not met with Bennetch since last winter. Mayor Kenney, you told the media that you would convey 50 properties––that hasn’t happened,” said Birchette. 

A cost of about $150,000 was used to complete the renovations per unit.

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Last year, encampment leaders led two separate protests at the Ben Franklin Parkway and Sharswood in North Philadelphia.

The encampments which went on for days provoked the City to issue an eviction to remove protestors by force unless they left peacefully.

Based on a series of disclosed agreements made by Jeremiah to Bennetch, the low-income housing activist successfully moved Camp Teddy from Sharswood and allowed the PHA to continue its $52 million project that’ll include a shopping center, supermarket, and apartments.

According to Philadelphia Magazine, Bennetch was told that if she helped to move Camp JTD from the Parkway, she would receive 25 more houses from PHA, and 25 from the city.

Low-income housing for former homeless families was a nationally celebrated breakthrough pointing a step in the right direction to improve Philadelphia's poverty issues. Yet, some wonder if the city’s community land trusts will create a sustainable commitment.

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