Affordable Housing

A Sister of Mercy in the City of Brotherly Love

David is lucky to be alive. For 25 years, he slept on the tough streets in the City of Brotherly Love. The son of an abusive father, he didn’t drink or do drugs and he figured out ways to protect himself at night by sleeping next to the police station. When asked about the worst thing he ever witnessed while homeless, he pauses for a moment and then says, “I saw my best friend lit on fire one night.”

After contemplating suicide, today he is safe and has a paying job at Project HOME’s Home Spun Boutique thanks to Sister Mary Scullion, 55, who began her work saving the homeless back in 1976. Driven by the personal belief that “none of us are home until all of us are home,” she was listed in 2009 as one of the “most influential people in the world” by Time magazine.

“Out of the top 10 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia has the deepest poverty,” she says as she sits in a conference room at Project HOME, the affordable housing community where David lives, and that she helped found along with her colleague Joan Dawson McConnon. The purpose of Project HOME is to create a safe and supportive environment where adults, children, and families can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

The team at Project HOME has seen success with thousands of formerly homeless by offering residents more than just a permanent place to live. From counseling support and art classes to job services and onsite employment – Project HOME residents are given 360 degree support. Program organizers have found that because they can count on having a safe, permanent home (vs. temporary housing), residents feel comfortable taking full advantage of all the services the organization has to offer.

Even with a modest income, Philadelphia is one of the tightest rental markets in the country. Of all the major U.S. cities, Philadelphia has seen the largest increase in renters—up 28% according to a study from Capital One and the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, which analyzed affordable housing trends in 11 of America’s largest cities.

For David Brown and others, Project HOME has been a huge success—no small feat when you look at the poverty figures in the city. “Philadelphia's deep poverty rate is 12.2 percent, or nearly 185,000 people, including about 60,000 children,” according to an article published in September 2014 in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “That's almost twice the U.S. deep poverty rate of 6.3 percent.” According to the article, “a family of three living in deep poverty would take in around $10,000 annually.”

Despite these odds, more than 95 percent of those who come to Project HOME (which stands for Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care, Education) stay housed more than six months. Philadelphia now has 15 Project HOME locations, including a new Capital One-funded location currently under construction in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, at 810 Arch Street, that will feature 94 affordable units.

The new construction at 810 Arch Street is an important development for Chinatown, as it will provide high quality affordable housing and allow many residents in the area who are being priced out to remain in their neighborhood.

The 810 Arch Street project is a sign of hope for our entire community that we are taking concrete steps toward truly ending and preventing homelessness in Philadelphia — Sister Mary Scullion

Capital One provided $32.5 million in development financing for 810 Arch Street, which included a construction loan and equity investment. The building design and services provided at the new development will reflect the community’s cultural heritage, with Asian-inspired decor and art, and bilingual support. In addition to the financing package, Capital One provided a $100,000 grant to assist building residents with needs ranging from financial education to job skills and career services. Last year Capital One was one of the nation’s top affordable rental housing lenders, providing $1.5 billion in affordable rental housing loans and investments that created 11,000 safe and affordable places to live and an estimated 13,500 new jobs.

Jobs are further fueled by initiatives like Project HOME’s Home Spun Boutique, which sells gently used second-hand clothes, with all the profits going to fight homelessness.

One of the shelves in the store holds candles made by some of the Project HOME residents, like Lorene, 54, who fled home at a young age. For her, living on the streets was safer than home although it made her feel worthless. Today, she lives in Project HOME’s JBJ Soul Homes, a four-story mixed-use development that includes retail, offices, and 55 apartment units that received funding from musician Jon Bon Jovi.

“Before I came here, I was always down on myself,” she says, getting a little choked up as she sits in her small studio at Project HOME. “Things can happen for me now.”

By Tom Houlihan, Vice President, Community Finance, Capital One

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