If you’ve ever been down 34th Street, in Mantua, on the way to the Philadelphia Zoo, then you have passed by Mt. Vernon Manor. Mt. Vernon Manor is a 125-unit low-income garden apartment complex built in the late 1970s by a local community group, known at the time as Mt. Vernon Manor, Inc. Most of the complex is east of 34th Street, where significant redevelopment and renovation occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, and comprises 21 buildings. There are several buildings on 34th Street, a major throughway in the neighborhood, with two buildings on the west side of the street, just one block from the former Mantua Hall housing project. As I’ve previously mentioned, Mantua Hall is being rebuilt into Mantua Square, a new, low-rise mixed income apartment complex.
Mt. Vernon Manor is privately owned and managed, but the tenants are largely recipients of the federally funded Section 8 program, effectively making it a privately managed low-income housing project. Crime and street corner drug selling are a problem there, as is litter and significant deferred maintenance. The stucco outer walls and roof lines are showing significant wear, to say the least. The complex has no community amenities, except an occasional courtyard with extremely worn benches.
Fortunately, the community group that owns and manages the complex is about to embark on a total renovation of Mt. Vernon Manor. The buildings will be largely rebuilt from top to bottom in a two-phase project. The design will be done by architects Kitchen & Associates. The work will be financed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and federal funds and tax credits. The federal funds will include a Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant, the successor to the HOPE VI program. The Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant allows a community group to plan for their neighborhood, and in Mantua the grant will be used to redevelop Mt. Vernon Manor and its immediate neighborhood. The city will contribute $3.7 million from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Planning and grant writing is being done by Diamond & Associates, an affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization firm based in Center City.
The first phase will be primarily for those making less than 50% of the national median income. It will consist of 75 apartment units in 13 buildings. Most of the units will be two-bedroom apartments, with a few one and three-bedroom units. Five units will be for people with various disabilities, and another six will be adaptable for the disabled. There will be a 750 square foot community room and a laundry room. There will, also, be new landscaping and courtyards. Whether there will be criminal background checks, as is the norm with new PHA developments and many other new community affordable housing developments, I’m not sure. The remaining units would be renovated in the second phase next year, because there is an annual cap on the tax credit program being used for some of the financing. The project would begin later this year after tax credits are awarded in July.
The new Mt. Vernon Manor would join Mantua Square, west of 34th Street, and Union Hill, a development of 50 large affordable townhouses around 39th & 40th Streets nearby. These three developments would transform Mantua, where homes are starting to sell for more than $200,000, into a thriving neighborhood with a mix of incomes. The neighborhood, also, will benefit from the rebuilding of railroad bridges over 40th & 41st Streets, which would connect Mantua to Fairmount Park and The School of the Future (Microsoft High School), as well as a new streetscape improvement on Lancaster Avenue, which is already attracting new development and businesses similar to Baltimore, Frankford, and Passyunk Avenues. So, the redevelopment of Mt. Vernon Manor is one of the last pieces to truly revitalize Mantua for people of all incomes.
I have several renderings of the renovated buildings, courtesy of Diamond and Associates, as well as, pictures of Mt. Vernon Manor as it looks now. I, also, have links to the Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant program and Diamond and Associates website above.