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

Feb 3, 2013

Part 2 of Liddonfield: One Neighborhood's Struggle With Public Housing

Part Two:  Early Signs of Social Class Conflict 

If you missed part one of this series click on the link below:

Part One:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision 

by Rosemary Reeves

In  February of 1987, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Lini S. Kadaba wrote an article entitled, Where Project Isn’t a Dirty Word, in which various people were interviewed about Liddonfield being a model public housing development.  Ms. Kadaba’s telling headline was refreshingly frank about mainstream society’s view of public housing in general.  Unfortunately, “project” was indeed a dirty word in the northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg where Liddonfield was located, even in the earliest days of the housing project’s existence when the tenants were almost all white like the homeowners who lived nearby and even when there was very little serious crime to speak of.

Me and My Siblings in 1960s Liddonfield
To understand this early prejudice, which occurred despite the same racial makeup and lack of serious crime, we can trace it at least in part to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Savings and Loan League, profit-making organizations which, in the 1940s and 50s, placed ads in newspapers and on billboards across the country against public housing, comparing it to socialism.  Their lobbying efforts resulted in laws being changed in some states in regard to public housing, but they were never able to extinguish it all together.

This savvy ad campaign nevertheless left an indelible impression on the mainstream American public.  Many homeowners were convinced as early on as the 1950s and 60s that their close proximity to Liddonfield housing project lowered the value of their property and yet, unfairly, they were forced to pay the same real estate taxes as other Upper Holmesburg property owners.  But Charles Scully, former President of the Philadelphia Board of Realtors told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Lini Kadaba in his 1987 interview that this was not the case and that houses next to the project sold at basically the same price as those that were farther away from Liddonfield.  

In that same 1987 article, Kadaba also interviewed Liddonfield manager R. Docimo who said, “The outside neighborhood always wants to consider (project residents) as ‘those people,’ someone different.”

In her interview with Kadaba, Joan Ferriera, President of the Northeast Federation of Civic Associations admitted, “There’s always prejudice against the projects” and that “sometimes a kid from the project doesn’t stand a chance outside.”  

At that time, Liddonfield was only 17 percent black, but just months before a white man, who was still at large, threw a Molotov cocktail on the lawn of a black family living in the project.  Journalist Lini Kadaba noted in the article that “Over the years, racial and other prejudices associated with the word project have threatened tranquility there.”

A kid from the project doesn’t stand a chance?  Tranquility threatened?  And yet, no action was taken to address the looming social class conflict that was obvious to everyone but heeded by no one, least of all the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Sources:  JOURNAL OF POLICY HISTORY VOL. 17, NUMBER 2, 2005, How Did Public Housing Survive the 1950s? by D. Bradford Hunt; Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 1, 1987, Where Project Isn’t a Dirty Word by reporter Lini S. Kadaba

Part 3 of this series will be posted Monday, February 11, 2013*

*Part 3 is postponed until Thursday of this week. 


Part One:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision

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