On a recent evening in Nicetown, plastic bags and scraps of paper blew across Germantown Avenue like tumbleweeds. Inside the New Inspirational Baptist Church, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen tried (and, it must be admitted, largely failed) to keep on track a meeting about the future of Nicetown and development there. They had been getting phone calls: Some residents of this poor community saw nice things going in around them, things beyond their reach — and worried they were being left behind.
Take, for example, a salon and spa that the Nicetown Community Development Corp. (slogan: “Putting the Nice back in ‘The Town’”) helped to open. “A Muslim salon,” a committeewoman said with distaste, griping that the massages cost $85. “I can’t afford that.” The CDC’s Majeedah Rashid suggested that the woman not purchase a massage, then: “That salon and spa was put in Nicetown to prove that we can have those kinds of things as well.”
However, a larger problem was that some residents were angry at being shut out of the CDC’s recent development, Nicetown Court I, a sleek, four-story building with ground-floor commercial space and 37 mixed-income apartments that looms over the avenue like a curving ship’s prow. “Does Nicetown give back to Nicetown?” asked Beverly Stewart, who said she’d applied for a place in the Court but apparently had been removed from the prospective-renter list with no notice or explanation. “What I need to know is: How many of these residents who live in this neighborhood are going to be in those homes?” It didn’t raise her spirits that the CDC, with partner Universal Companies, this Monday broke ground on Nicetown Court II, an even larger 50-unit project. Together, the two developments go a long way to changing the face of Germantown Avenue just south of the Wayne Junction train station. Rashid told the group that more than a third of Court I residents came from the neighborhood, but that nearly 700 people had applied for the 37 units. “We had people signing up at the groundbreaking. Unfortunately, three-quarters of them were on [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]. You can’t live in a residence where you have to pay rent and utilities on $205 per week.” Things got heated, and some residents told Rashid they didn’t want to live in her shiny new developments anyway. “Fine,” she responded. “We have hundreds behind you.”