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.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Feb 17, 2013

Part 4 of Liddonfield: One Neighborhood's Struggle With Public Housing

by Rosemary Reeves



Part 4:  Councilwoman Joan Krajewski Steps In

If you missed the first three parts of this series click on the links below:

Part 1:  A Politician's Legacy, An Architect's Vision 

 
Liddonfield Housing Project

They came to Upper Holmesburg during the real estate boom of the 1950s and 60s to have a piece of the American dream ─ blue collar and white collar workers who wanted to live the suburban lifestyle.  Philadelphia’s Far Northeast was the next best thing, where homes were less expensive than those in the suburbs, streets were safe, schools were excellent and neighbors looked out for each other. 

The low-income residents of Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development also wanted a better life and good future for their families, but by the late 1980s crack cocaine had found its way into the project.  This series includes some of the heroic steps that were taken by determined homeowners and tenants of the project in an attempt to rid themselves of drug dealers in a neighborhood deemed “low priority.”

In Part 4, outraged by a drug-related double-murder at Liddonfield, tenants of the project hold an emergency meeting and petition for a police mini-station.

 “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
---American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald

Upper Holmesburg homeowners held steadfastly onto their neighborhood’s quaint family-friendly image throughout the social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s and long after others deemed their lifestyle an anachronism, but the flag-waving residents of this patriotic district would have their idealism shattered and their courage tested in the aftermath of the double-murder at Liddonfield.  

When the murders took place in 1987 at the Far Northeast housing project, most of the tenants were single moms struggling to raise their children alone while living at or below the poverty line.  For them, simply finding ways to stretch a meal was often a monumental effort.  Some came to Liddonfield from the worst public housing developments in Philadelphia.  When they arrived in Liddonfield, many thought their dreams of having a safe and peaceful environment for their children to grow up in had become a reality at last. 

Over time, they had become as idealistic as the homeowners on the outside.  When the drug-related murders happened they were equally shaken, angry and afraid, but mostly angry.  On July 26, 1988 members of the Liddonfield Tenant Council called an emergency meeting where approximately 100 tenants demanded answers from Sgt. Michael Mander of the 8th District Police Department and City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski.      

According to the July 28, 1988 Philadelphia Inquirer article by reporter Lisa Ellis, Liddonfield Residents Vent Anger About Drugs, at the meeting, Liddonfield tenants complained about police taking a long time to respond to their calls and accused the cops of being too afraid to come out of their patrol cars when they do show up.  Sgt. Mander explained that the reason cops stayed inside their cars was not fear but procedure, which was to shine their searchlights as a means to “disperse a crowd.”    

“We are so undermanned in the police department,” Krajewski told the tenants.  She added, “You can’t expect the city to do it.  You can’t expect the police to do it.  You have to work together and get the punks out of the neighborhood.”  The Liddonfield tenants were fired up and Krajewski’s rousing speech drew enthusiastic applause.  Many of the attendees signed a petition for a mini-police station in Liddonfield and the tough talking councilwoman promised to push for the mini-station.  

The law-abiding project residents were mad and ready for action during the heat of the moment, but when they went home to their respective Liddonfield apartments, reality set in.  They were given the responsibility of curbing the drug problem at Liddonfield but had no power to make rules for the housing project, to screen new tenants or to delegate authority.  All the Liddonfield Tenant Council could do was use persuasion to gather volunteers among the public housing residents and come up with a plan of action.

Captain Christopher Roedell, 8th Police District Commander, who was unable to attend the meeting due to minor surgery, said in an interview with reporter Lisa Ellis the following day that there was little chance Liddonfield would get a mini-police station.  “The purpose of a mini-station is to serve an entire community,” he stated, “not just one section of it.”

The people who lived in Liddonfield were viewed as a distinct group apart from the rest of the community.  That had been the status quo for thirty years, resulting in a lingering undercurrent of divisiveness that was largely non-problematic for quiet and unassuming Upper Holmesburg.  Outsiders in their own neighborhood, Liddonfield tenants formed their own tight-knit community within the larger one.  This grudging acceptance of the status quo between people within and outside of the project made it difficult to form a united front in the face of a common threat to the safety of all.  If the whole community was to win the war against drugs in the project, homeowners and Liddonfield tenants would have to work together.  That day would come, but for now the status quo remained intact.  

Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Liddonfield Residents Vent Anger About Drugs, July 28, 1988 by reporter Lisa Ellis

Part 5 of this series will be posted next week. 

RELATED STORIES:

Part 5:  Where Did Liddonfield's Working White Families Go?

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