State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas is making sure the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s new leadership confronts the issues facing residents, especially in light of what Thomas believes are the failings of past PHA directors to connect with residents.
Thomas set up three community meetings with PHA Interim Executive Director Kelvin A. Jeremiah. The third meeting took place from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Warnock Community Center, 2862 Germantown Ave. Previous meetings were held at the John F. Street Center and the Althea Gibson Education and Tennis Center.
“It’s unfortunate the last two PHA directors didn’t feel it was important enough to talk directly to residents. They had advisory council structures, which they used to talk to the people, but never talked to them directly,” Thomas said, referring to former directors Carl Greene and Michael P. Kelly. “The purpose of these meetings are to meet the new director and get updated on where PHA is, which is important because the budgeting process resolved the issue of board reorganization — with the board being expanded from five members to nine.
“The mayor will appoint 7 people,” Thomas continued,” who will have to be confirmed by City Council in the next 60 days.”
Thomas, whose district contains an assortment of PHA and other low-income housing, has several ideas on how PHA can improve its standing with residents.
“Even with the board being reestablished, I’m advocating that the receiver, Estelle Richmond, stay in place and resolve all issues surrounding Kelly and Greene. There are all kinds of audits and investigations in regard to finances with PHA, and I think the receivership would have to deal with those issues without a new board worrying about them,” Thomas said. “Also, there should be no elected officials on the board — they have to take the politics out of it. And PHA should not deal with any landlords – either with Section 8 or other housing vouchers – if they have outstanding issues with city.”
Thomas also intimated that since PHA is a creation of the commonwealth, the state needs to be more of a partner to the process. To that end, Thomas praised the recent settlement of a national class-action lawsuit that resulted in Pennsylvania receiving $12.5 million, which has been earmarked specifically to address various housing issues.
“We were able to get the governor and General Assembly to agree to put that money into the Department of Treasury, going to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to be used for affordable housing, which would include PHA,” Thomas said. “It would deal with rising mortgage foreclosures, housing restoration, emergency rent, and in some cases, deal with new homes.”
Thomas knows that no matter the influx of dollars, PHA’s network of low-rent dwellings will never succeed if residents don’t feel safe leaving their homes.
“My district is probably the worst district in the city when it comes to crime and violence,” Thomas said, noting that crime and lawlessness is particularly high at Harrison Plaza, Spring Garden Apartments and Fairhill Apartments. “Carl Greene thought PHA should not have its own police department, and that residents should look to the Philadelphia Police Department. Greene was only interested in protecting assets and new homes, but you need more than that.
“Especially with Norris Homes,” continued Thomas. “You have Temple Police right there, across the street. At Tenth Street, on the east side of Norris is the Philadelphia Gas Company police force. Then you have the 22nd police district that covers Norris Homes, and then you have SEPTA Police right there, due to the station SEPTA put there. But you don’t have these four law enforcement agencies intersecting with each other for the benefit of the residents.
“Part of my recommendation is to develop interagency agreements to support one another in the protection of all residents, but especially PHA residents.”