Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Dec 8, 2013


by Rosemary Reeves

Some who live in Upper Holmesburg would prefer I not have written true life stories about social class prejudice or racial tensions within the neighborhood.  As a former resident of Liddonfield housing project, this is my response.
With I strived to create a style of blogging where visitors experience the effect of walking into the story, as opposed to simply reading facts.  I knew a good writer could take them into another time and place.  I wanted to stir their emotions when they read the stories about Liddonfield and the northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg, to awaken their human compassion, outrage, anticipation, empathy or appreciation for their own fortunate lives.  At the same time, by reading the stories they would also learn about the impact of government on individuals in an average American neighborhood.  All of the stories are true and all of the people in them are real.    

Some who live in Upper Holmesburg would prefer I not write stories about social class prejudice or racial tensions within the neighborhood.  The far northeast region of Philadelphia, where it is located, has a family friendly image which those who live there  wish to maintain.  However, I would like to point out that every neighborhood in America has its share of prejudice and, in this, Upper Holmesburg is no different.  In addition, the stories about racial and social class prejudice took place when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, which was a time of great social upheaval.  

Another reason this blog fired some resistance is that homeowners who lived near Liddonfield feel it is they who have been victimized by the people in the project.  Since I had not lived in the area for years, I was compelled to investigate.  After researching the stunning developments in Liddonfield during the late 1980s, when the introduction of crack cocaine into the project led to a culture of shootings, murders and other violent crime, I decided to include the homeowners’ story in the blog.  I felt they deserved it because of all they had been through.  I also believe their story can be valuable to our political decision-makers, experts, intellectuals and university professors.  

I urge residents of the Far Northeast to re-visit Liddonfield’s history with the view that it offers a social and political chronology of key events in the area which reflect on American society as a whole and consequently, these events may be of potential interest to other Americans.

Philadelphia’s Far Northeast carries the nickname “Center City’s little brother” because it is quite a distance from downtown.  For years, it has been treated as less important than neighborhoods surrounding City Hall, which receive a larger chunk of the city’s budget and better city services. 

Though quiet and unassuming on the surface, Upper Holmesburg and nearby neighborhoods carry much more importance than appears at first glance.  The people living within the red brick row homes that dot its streets have lived through fascinating moments in history.  The power structure at City Hall should pause and listen when they speak.  These folks are tough-as-nails America.  They don’t fit in with the glamour and glitz of cocktail parties held in Philadelphia’s downtown elite locales.  They’re not Rittenhouse or Society Hill.  They are the people impacted by decisions made at those cocktail parties.  Their sleeves are rolled up from hard work, flags are waving in front of their houses and their pride is a thing to be reckoned with.

The events at Liddonfield housing project, which caused conflict within, may give “little brother” an unexpected advantage now that the project is demolished and it is all part of local history.  Liddonfield can be cited as an example of how political decisions steered the course of an entire neighborhood’s social, economic and environmental destiny, as well as that of the neighborhoods surrounding it.

As a writer and blogger, I was compelled to expose the cuts and bruises of the Far Northeast in order to portray the strength of character its finest inhabitants possess.  The residents of Upper Holmesburg should not fear any unflattering representation in my stories.  Sooner or later, the good guy appears and if it is not them, then it is someone they know.  

The story of Liddonfield reveals more about the heroes of Philadelphia’s Far Northeast than its villains.  One cannot exist without the other.  Heroes emerge out of conflict and strife.  They are not needed when all is well.  Chances are you will not find them at cocktail parties.  The American hero is the guy down the block and he is scarred from the fray.  He stumbles victorious toward house and home, for all of his valiant efforts were spurred by love of family.


Nov 24, 2013

Sep 29, 2013


By Rosemary Reeves

Since the 1968 Fair Housing Act which barred discrimination in housing, blacks were no longer legally prevented from buying homes in white neighborhoods.  Whites reacted by moving to areas where the housing prices were too high for most blacks to afford.  This has always been an escape route when blacks moved in.  All of that is about to change.

In the March 2013 edition of Philadelphia Magazine a controversial article by Robert Huber, Being White in Philly:  Whites, Race, Class and the Things That Never Get Said, received widespread criticism from liberals.  Basically, Huber went around interviewing random white people he met in neighborhoods, asking them what they think about blacks.  Some of the white people Huber talked to told stories relating their personal experiences with blacks moving onto their street.  Almost all of their comments were negative.  The gist of the article was that American society won’t allow whites to express their resentment against blacks for ruining good white neighborhoods.  Mayor Nutter pretty much proved the point when he tried to have the magazine shut down for what he considered a racist story.  

While the content of the article was quite upsetting for white and black liberals, many of them made the mistake of letting their emotions rule the day.  This includes Mayor Nutter, who practically attempted to reverse the free speech clause in the Constitution because he didn’t like what he read.  If we silence people who complain about black crime just because they are Caucasian, we must ask ourselves this.  How are we to keep America from moving farther to the right?

While the left embraces inertia, ultra-right-wing conservatives are on top of this hot button issue.  The Libertarian Tea Party has a lot of appeal for Americans who are longing for a return of a common civic culture where young people were raised in a two-parent household and taught to mind their manners, respect authority, dress appropriately and do well in school.  The ultra-conservative movement not only acknowledges white frustration with crime and bad behavior among black youths, it offers renowned experts who espouse conservative solutions.  

Economics Expert Thomas Sowell
For instance, right-wing economics experts Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams assert that public housing and all forms of public assistance should be abolished completely, because these programs create a culture of dependency and are a major cause of the breakdown of the black, two-parent family.  Sowell is the author of more than thirty books, including Intellectuals and Race and is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank.  Williams is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and the author of over a dozen books, his most recent being Up from the Projects.  Both assert that the black man is no longer needed as breadwinner of the household because welfare and housing assistance programs have replaced him.  They suggest a link between this and the fact that the number of children born out of wedlock in the black community has climbed dramatically since the 1960s.  The loss of traditional family values has resulted in lack of educational achievement of blacks as well as high crime rates and unemployment in the black community, these experts say.  Both Sowell and Williams are African American and come from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Williams grew up in Richard Allen Homes, the same Philadelphia public housing development where Bill Cosby lived with his family.  Cosby and Williams were neighbors at Richard Allen, incidentally.

Walter Williams
However, black conservatives who grew up in public housing like Williams often freely admit that prior to the 1960s housing projects were safe, well-kept and populated by working families who adhered to the mainstream civic culture of family values, respect for authority, achievement in school and individual accountability.  One might argue that it is not public housing which is at fault, but changes in public housing policy and other social welfare programs which took place in successive administrations.  

Since the 1968 Fair Housing Act which barred discrimination in housing, blacks were no longer legally prevented from buying homes in white neighborhoods.  Whites reacted by moving to areas where the housing prices were too high for most blacks to afford.  This has always been an escape route when blacks moved in.  Few American neighborhoods remain mixed for very long.  

All of that is about to change.  Moving from one middle-class neighborhood to another one a little pricier will no longer be a means toward de facto segregation.  Since the U.S. government mandated a program known as HOPE VI, hundreds of thousands of public housing units have been demolished.  Former residents of these projects, 96 percent of whom are black or Hispanic, have been given housing vouchers instead.  Landlords love these vouchers because the rent payment is guaranteed.  Since the economy tanked, Investors have been buying up the large stock of foreclosed homes in middle-class neighborhoods and renting them out to the black and Hispanic Section 8 tenants, some of whom have out of control children that become criminals in adulthood.   If Democrats in public office do not weed out problem Section 8 tenants more effectively, ordinary citizens will be forced to turn to ultra-conservative groups for solutions.  When that happens, people of color will have a lot more than hurt feelings to worry about.

It's time liberals admit we have an image problem.  The American public perceives us as soft on crime and putting the rights of poor people, no matter how undeserving, over the needs of everyone else.  In our fervor, we have forgotten that the purpose of liberalism is to advocate fairness so people may rise out of poverty through their own meritorious efforts.  This is something we lost along the way.

In order for liberalism to regain its popularity with the electorate, it may be necessary for the left to adopt a tough stance against women who have multiple children out of wedlock while on public assistance, perhaps through ad campaigns indicating that such behavior does not reflect true liberalism. While this may seem harsh to some, it is far more compassionate to do so than to ignore the damage these women are doing to their children by condemning them to a life of poverty.

Ultra-conservative politicians imply that, if elected, they will eradicate the huge bureaucracy of public housing with one simple legislative act and that doing so will force the poor to fend for themselves.  It would no longer be practical for them to have children out of wedlock since there will be no reward in the form of free or low-cost housing.  The poor black man will be needed by the poor black woman as breadwinner of the household once again.  It will become desirable for poor blacks to marry and with a father at home young black men will learn the value of morals and hard work.
Even if we were to assume that this social engineering plan is feasible, it will be decades in the making.  One cannot simply abolish public housing in one fell swoop.  Leonard Freedman, author of The Politics of Poverty, wrote that despite opposition from the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Savings and Loan League in the 1950s public housing survived “because it existed, because it is very difficult to eliminate completely any instrumentality which is part of the structure of government.” 

During urban renewal in the 1930s slum clearance took place on a grand scale.  Hundreds of thousands of impoverished people were forced to vacate their ramshackle homes and rooming houses.  Dwellings in which the poor traditionally lived were torn down and replaced by more expensive homes, pricey shops and new office buildings.  The displaced multitudes were then steered into public housing developments.  

Since then, low-income people who didn’t qualify for or didn’t want to live in public housing had a difficult time finding a place to stay, even if they had a steady job.  Cheap boarding houses survived although there were far fewer of them with each passing decade because of discriminatory zoning laws that imposed so many restrictions on the boarding houses it was no longer worth it to operate one.  A few still existed in the 1970s but they have virtually disappeared in the last two decades.   The Fair Housing Act permits landlords to discriminate based on credit scores.  This is a catastrophe for poor people who need housing.  Since most poor people do not have good credit, it is legal for landlords to turn them away even if they have proof of employment.  

A gradual downsizing of public housing and housing assistance programs may produce some positive results over time, but only if zoning laws restricting cheap boarding houses, residential hotels and basement conversions are abolished.  A resurgence of these types of rental units would ease poor people out of housing assistance programs and back to independent living, relieve the burden on the taxpayer and create wealth for property owners wishing to offer rooms for rent without credit checks.  There should, however, be requirements for on-site security and criminal background checks at rooming houses with three or more rental units.  There should still be some public housing but on a much smaller scale, eventually limited to the elderly and the disabled.

In the meantime, ordinary citizens must use the power of the vote to make sure that only deserving families remain on the housing voucher program, as the Department of Housing and Urban Development does not allocate enough resources toward Section 8 compliance.  Ronald Reagan’s chief economist, Milton Friedman, once stated, “The hardest thing in the world is to get rid of any government program.”  


Being White in Philly:  Whites, Race, Class and the Things That Never Get Said, March 2013 edition of Philadelphia Magazine by Robert Huber

Journal of Policy History, How Did Public Housing Survive the 1950’s?, by D. Bradford Hunt


A Housing Project Kid’s Story of Race in 1960s and 70s Northeast Philadelphia

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