(Above: P. Agnes Builder Construction Managers has built two previous state-of-the-art buildings for Drexel University. This site marks their third project on Spring Garden and 35th streets.)
At the start of the new-year, the small and impoverished neighborhood of Mantua has faced a 64 percent increase in property taxes, forcing many life-long residents to either find new homes in other areas, or plead with their representatives for relief.
“It’s taxation without representation,” says Leroy Jones, a resident of Mantua for 35 years.
“There is a problem with the money flow,” he said. “The representatives are looking out for their own best interests rather than figuring out a way to help the neighborhood. Take a look at the student-housing developers. They’re employing out-of-state workers … If it’s not co-operative with the neighborhood, how does that really help?”
Not all residents see the new tax increase as an issue. President Obama’s recent declaration of Mantua as one of five designated “Promise Zones” seems to be shining a faint glimmer of light on the community, for some.
“It excludes people here who were very problematic,” says Erik Randolph-Gilkes, an artist and resident of Mantua’s 36th Street. “It will force those who may still be here to leave. It removes a certain type of person.”
Residents who are renting apartments are not affected by the new property tax. Among them is Leola Barber, a resident of 38th and Spring Garden for the past five years.
“I’m on disability for bipolar and schizophrenia, which means I can live here in my own apartment off of the money from the government …” says Barber. “I used to live with drug dealers, so it’s nice to have my own place now.”
Barber is currently attending classes at the Center For Literacy at 399 Market St. and plans to buy a small home of her own one day.
In order for a community in the United States to be designated as a “Promise Zone,” it must possess an overall poverty rate of at least 20 percent, one census tract with a poverty rate over 30 percent, and a federal grant program in place. Mantua’s current poverty rate is a whopping 51 percent, and its unemployment rate is 14 percent. The national unemployment average is only 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Words, photos and video by Michael Wojcik