The Red Line Project Reflected Diverse Opinions

We began meeting back in October about a project that would explore recent changes in my neighborhood in South Philly.  We saw the worst aspect of the recent changes in our neighborhood when anti-Semitic statements were shouted at a recent zoning meeting sponsored by a Registered Community Organization (RCO).  There have been rapid changes in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia.  On my block alone, there has been a house built in the last two months.  On the 1600 Block of Latona Street, there has been infill construction with the Latona Green project.  Also, new construction on lots at 1602 and 1604 has bought new neighbors.  On the 1500 block of Federal Street a house is being finished.  The building continues right across the street from the Office of State Representative Jordan Harris on South 21st Street.  The final analysis will be the demographics of those who moves in to these properties.  Are new neighbors racially and economically diverse?  Time will tell.

Red Lining is defined as the practice of denying services, either directly or indirectly through selectively raising priced, to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic makeups of those areas.  There was a suburb of Long Island, NY called Levittown.  It was created to symbolize the upward mobility of the owners.  Lawns, dine in kitchens and various floor plans.  The major problem was that the builders, Levitt & Sons, had no intention on selling any of these homes to black home buyers.  Clause 25 of the standard lease for the first Levitt houses stated that the homes could not "be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.  For the couples of color that could afford to buy in this subdivision, the rejection was the continuation of discrimination that some people still feel in this country.

Image result for RedLine Project

In Point Breeze, I shudder when we have residents making comments that impugn a person's race or religious origins.  I don't want anyone to feel the pain of rejection that is based on anything other than a substandard credit rating.  The biggest challenge for many residents of Point Breeze and other areas of South Philly east of Broad Street now is affordability.  Who defines affordability?  The Building Industry Association, ten years ago, placed affordability at $150,000.00 for a first time homebuyer.  Government subsidies were able to help houses be built in this range for the first set of homes built by Universal Homes.  The present cost of labor and materials place new construction costs in the $250,000.00 to $400,000.00 range.  This price increase effectively excludes many home buyers.

Lisa Nelson-Haynes, Marge Jones and myself met to discuss the outreach necessary to have a successful project.  We talked about identifying long time homeowners, recent homeowners and non-minority neighbors.  We wanted people who were not necessarily angry about the changes but who would be honest in their opinions.  Lisa had won a grant that would allow her to complete a digital story telling process.  I was excited from the beginning of the process and felt the same sense of enthusiasm as we finished the last session yesterday.  We had commentary from the Gabbadon family and from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.  We had newer neighbors who lived on the north side of Washington Avenue as well as transplants from New York.  Many people cited price and accessibility as the reasons for buying in South Philly.  Some did express that they would sell for the right price. 

In the end result, we had audiences that felt safe when expressing their opinions about life in South Philly.  Lisa Nelson-Haynes, and her husband Gene, made sure that people were well fed and hydrated during these sessions.  Their daughter Olivia deftly recorded the comments of attendees.  The Temple University students were really professional as the sessions went on.  Donnell Powell was very precise as the photographer for the project.  It is my hope that the final stories will reflect an honest opinion of the diversity of Point Breeze and other areas of South Philly with a concern about affordability for current residents and new neighbors.  I cannot wait to promote the link and follow other discussions occurring nationwide on this issue. 

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