Richard Allen Homes
Built in 1941 and named after Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richard Allen Homes was one of Philadelphia's first federally funded housing projects. Planning began during the Great Depression, and the construction of the homes was intended to give a boost to the ailing construction industry and provide decent, low-cost housing to struggling working-class families. The development's system of three-and four-story buildings punctuated with enclosed courtyards was designed to have the feel of garden apartments and was regarded as a model of forward-thinking public housing. By the 1980s, Allen homes were suffering from many of the ills that plagued government-run public housing projects in cities all over the country. In 2003, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) completed a costly redevelopment of the Richard Allen Homes, part of a city-wide public housing reinvestment program. Richard Allen's old dwellings were demolished and replaced with suburban development-style semi-detached homes.
Richard Allen's most famous resident was comedian Bill Cosby, who grew up here. Longtime locals remember Cosby and his friend, the real "Fat Albert," walking up Marshall Street every week.
Richard Allen Homes displaced more people than it housed. Like many other federal "slum renewal" projects of early- and mid-20th century, the construction of Richard Allen actually destroyed hundreds of occupied row homes and erased the existing African American neighborhood along 11th Street.
By the 1980s, the residents of Richard Allen were faced with deteriorating conditions and mounting crime. The bunker-like construction of the sprawling complex that was once hailed as an example of progressive design now made residents feel isolated from the surrounding neighborhood. Federal and municipal government budget cuts slashed maintenance staff. Despite doing repairs and clean-up themselves, the residents of Richard Allen were left without real resources to contend with faulty electrical wiring, dilapidated sewage systems, and the overall decay of infrastructure and courtyards. Empty apartments—left unsealed by the housing authorities—became a convenient haven for drug users; dealers took advantage of the complex's maze of courtyards.
After the redevelopment in 2003, stricter residential requirements have resulted in relatively more affluent and stable residents who are on the path to home ownership. PHA asserts that reinvented public housing improves housing conditions, reduces blight, and raises the property values of the surrounding neighborhood. Critics of the new projects claim that the decreased number of units (the new Richard Allen Homes have fewer than half the units of the old complex), stricter requirements, and rising property values do little to lift the lowest-income citizens out of poverty and accelerates the rate of gentrification and displacement in transitional neighborhoods. Other critics have voiced concerns about the aesthetic implications of placing incongruous suburban-style homes in a brick row-house environment. But residents and PHA counter that the suburban style of the full-amenity, single-family houses generates respect, pride, and community spirit within and beyond the development.
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