Osage Pine residents still demanding city hire federal agency to rebuild community

"We just want to get our community and property values back."

Cherri Gregg
May 22, 2018 - 10:25 pm
It's been 33 years since the MOVE tragedy resulted in the loss of 11 lives and more than 60 homes in West Philadelphia.

Cherri Gregg | KYW Newsradio

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WEST PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It's been 33 years since the MOVE bombing resulted in the loss of 11 lives and more than 60 homes in West Philadelphia. 

Last year, the city hired developers to rehab 30 of the homes that were boarded up for years, but residents want the work done the right way.

"We homeowners are here today to save our community," said Gerald Renfrow, president of the Osage Pine Community Association. Renfrow, his wife Connie and a half dozen neighbors read a statement to the city demanding that the Kenney administration hire the Army Corps of Engineers to oversee work being done by city on their block.

"We feel if we leave it up to city inspectors, we are vulnerable like we were last time," he said. "We were left in a lurch by City Hall and we don't want that to happen again."

The Osage Pine homeowners all said they do not trust the city's efforts. There has been too much bad blood: a bombing, a fire and a haphazard rebuild effort that the Army Corps of Engineers determined was substandard.  

While 36 residents took a $150,000 buyout from the city, Renfrow and the others remained. Over the past 18 years, they've endured crime, blight and plummeting property values. They are hoping holding out pays off — but they want to make sure.

"We need impartial inspectors," Renfrow said. "We need the expertise and integrity of the Army Corps of Engineers to give our community assurances."

When asked whether the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) would hire the engineers, they agency issued the following statement on behalf of Executive Director Gregory Heller:

"It is essential to ensure that the Osage-Pine construction is high quality. After weighing the options we did not feel that engaging the US Army Corps was the most responsible approach. In order to engage the Army Corps it requires a federal request and authorization and can take months to formally engage them. Even then this would just be one of a number of projects that they have on their docket. We decided the better route would be for us to hire a full-time quality assurance professional who could start right away. Construction is going on now, and we needed someone on the field immediately, not in six or nine months. The individual we hired has over 30 years of experience and is certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. By hiring a full-time person of his caliber I believe we have demonstrated our commitment to making sure this job is done right." 

Spokesman Ben Voight from the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that a federal request, as well as some federal funding, would be needed to engage their services. He determined their work in the Osage Pine community would include inspections and construction oversight. 

Voight estimated fees would reach a maximum of $50,000. He said the Army Corps of Engineers could come out in short order and assess the current situation, and provide an estimate free of charge. 

AJR Endeavors, the developer hired to complete the project, said they would welcome a third-party inspector.

"We are 100 percent in support of that," added AJR partner Anthony Fullard.

PRA spokesperson Jamila Harris said the city had no federal dollars to allocate hiring Army Corps of Engineers for the project. She also said the PRA has every intention of successfully completing the rehabilitation and work toward healing the community.

"It raises red flags when they say something like that," added Renfrow in response. "We don't trust City Hall because they betrayed us from the day they dropped a bomb and let it burn. We need assurances, and we need our elected officials to step up."

Osage Pine residents are asking City Council to schedule a hearing and find federal funding to engage the Army Corps of Engineers. The remaining homeowners, who are in the 60s and 70s, say they are running out of time.

"We just want to get our community and property values back," Renfrow said.