Mamie Nichols spent the majority of her life creating housing for low-income people in Point Breeze. More than a decade after her death, she’s still getting the job done.
On Nov. 17, the Women’s Community Revitalization Project broke ground at Capitol and Reed streets on 33 affordable townhomes and apartments in Point Breeze, where Nichols lived most of her 91 years and became the executive director of the Point Breeze Federation.
Dedicated in her memory, the soon-to-be-constructed Mamie Nichols Townhomes will serve as a reminder that Nichols’ plan is still in motion.
“I want to thank Mamie Nichols for her unbelievable activism and her family for lending their name to this project,” said Nora Lichtash, executive director of WCRP. “And the hundreds of residents, some who have been in this neighborhood for generations, and some who are newer residents, who stood up for the need for affordable housing.”
The development will include 22 townhomes for families and 11 single-bedroom or efficiency units for veterans with special needs. Nine units will be wheelchair accessible. The project, which will convert three dozen empty lots into residential use, is part of the Community Justice Land Trust, which is a model that promotes equitable development through community ownership of the land to allow housing prices to respond to community demands rather than market demands.
“Over the past 20 years, we have seen major changes in the community we love,” said Albert Littlepage, president of the Point Breeze Community Development Coalition. “After decades of disinvestment, developers seized on the opportunity that Point Breeze offers. The proximity to Center City, the market rate affordability and vacant land. The new development has taken place in our neighborhood has changed the composition of our community and ultimately caused housing prices and taxes to go up, causing long-term African American residents to become displaced and priced out.”
Included within the 33-townhome and apartment development, units will be built on the 2000 block of Wharton Street, 1300 block of S. Capitol Street, 2000 block of Reed Street and the 1400 block of S. Taylor Street. They will be prioritized to Point Breeze residents.
“I truly understand how we need to balance the level of development that we’re seeing inside our community, because ultimately, I believe that a diverse and inclusive community is a strong community,” City Councilmember and Point Breeze resident Kenyatta Johnson said. “But nevertheless, those who have always lived inside this neighborhood shall always have the opportunity to stay inside this neighborhood and raise their family.”
Construction is expected to be completed in November, 2021. Neighborhood residents who meet financial eligibility requirements will be prioritized. According to the WCRP, a family of four earning less than $48,300 a year would be eligible to apply for these homes. Each townhome will have a private entrance from the street, a washer and dryer, garbage disposal, air conditioning, window treatments and carpets in bedrooms and hallways. The complex, which is close to nearby shopping on Point Breeze Avenue, will be designed to look like nearby homes. Supported by Low Income Housing Tax Credits, monthly rent will range from $153 to $800, plus utilities, depending on the size of the unit.
“It fit’s into the city’s 10-year Housing Action Plan where we are committed to creating affordable housing opportunities, particularly in neighborhoods like Point Breeze that are having such an influx of private development,” said Anne Fadullon, director of the city’s Department of Development Planning. “Too often those prices are out of the reach of existing residents. Housing costs in this area of South Philly have risen about 300 percent in the past 20 years and unfortunately we have not seen incomes keep up with that level.”
Nichols had predicted a similar, if not spot-on scenario, before her death in 2009. Before her passing, Nichols had established the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, of which she became president. She rehabilitated the Landreth Building at 23rd and Federal streets into a community center and residence for the elderly. And she planted hundreds of gardens in vacant lots and planters throughout the community to beautify the neighborhood.
Her daughter Rochelle Nichols-Solomon spoke for her mother at the groundbreaking, saying how proud she would be to have her name on this new development.
“She would smilingly say it’s all just hard work,” Nichols-Solomon said. “At the core, Mamie Nichols truly believed in the power of ordinary people to work together to do extraordinary things. And if she was here today, she would be so proud of this work and would say ‘well done’.”