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(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 312: Building Community in North Philly

December 3, 2020

This week on the podcast we’re joined by Nilda Ruiz, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Rose Gray, Senior Vice President, Community and Economic Development, both at APM (The Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha or Association of Puerto Ricans on the March). We chat about their LEED Platinum TOD and the community health benefits it confers in North Philadelphia as well as the community work and organizing they do for neighborhood residents. We also chat about the importance of transportation and the impacts of the current pandemic.

Follow below for the full (unedited) transcript:

Jeff Wood (0s):
You’re listening to the Talking Headways podcast network. This is Talking. Headways a weekly podcast about sustainable transportation and urban design. I’m Jeff Wood this week we’re joined by Nilda Ruiz president and chief executive officer and Rose Gray senior vice-president community and economic development at APM Nilda and Rose discussed their ongoing Community work and their Tod project in North Philadelphia. Stay with us. This episode was produced in partnership with revolution to find out more about the revolution conference, including this year as a virtual conference or next year’s in-person conference in Phoenix, Arizona, go to revolution.org that’s revolution.org today’s podcast is brought to you by our super generous Patrion sporters.

Jeff Wood (47s):
Thank you infinitely for supporting the show. You can support the show by going to patrion.com/the Overhead Wire today’s podcast is also brought to you by the numerous projects of The Overhead Wire our 14 year old daily newsletter, where you can sign up for a two week free trial by going to The Overhead wire.com and our audio book production of Raymond Owens 1909 classic Town Planning in Practice pick it up and listen to it as a podcast, by going to The Overhead wire.com or Raymond unwin.com. Before Do we get to this week’s show? I want to let folks know that they can get this podcast wherever you find your podcasts, including iHeart radio Spotify overcast Stitcher And of course Apple podcasts.

Jeff Wood (1m 27s):
Make sure you subscribe. So you don’t miss an episode and subscribing means you get bought this show Talking Headways and Mondays at The Overhead Wire where this music I I’m talking about. It comes from on the same feed to fund Podcast one great channel Subscribe Today Nilda Ruiz and Rose Gray. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Nilda Ruiz (1m 50s):
Thank you. Thank you for having us. So

Jeff Wood (1m 52s):
Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Nilda Ruiz (1m 55s):
Sure. I’m a note of Ruiz. I’m the president and CEO of and Marcha, that is a PM we’re celebrating our 50th year here in Philadelphia. We’re very multi-faceted with we’re blessed that we are able to do a lot of social services. And once we get a family able to verbalize were able to then move them over to our community and economic development, where we help them to become self-sufficient by owning their own home. And then I guess what we’re going to be talking today is about Transportation, which is something that we’ve looked at very heavily in a way of stabilizing our community and also on greening, because while there’s a lot to say on that topic, but as we look at low-income families and helping them to find jobs, we also realize that another way of building wealth is to decrease expenses and increase revenue, right?

Nilda Ruiz (2m 53s):
So with the greening and the using the Transportation, it is a way of lowering those expenses so that they can have more to save him for the quality of life.

Jeff Wood (3m 4s):
So how did Associate zone Puerto Rican, you know, and Marcha get started in 50 years ago. That’s awesome.

Nilda Ruiz (3m 10s):
So Philadelphia has a huge history with Puerto Rico. We used to grow tobacco and then, and then the sugar refinery. So many of those shifts and workers came from Puerto Rico. So there’s a huge history of the Puerto Rican community here. So in the, in the sixties and seventies, we had some veterans that had come back from the Vietnam war to Philadelphia, and they looked at the community and they said, you know, this community needs help too. So they got together and ingratiated themselves to the mayor. At that time, I got a little grant and they started working with the Community and it was always about helping the community settle in Philadelphia, which is cold and very different than the Island.

Nilda Ruiz (3m 57s):
And many of them came to either work in factories or in the sugar refinery and their English. Wasn’t a good looking. So the accent, it was a very misunderstood Community. So we started it with behavioral health is to start helping the families assimilate. And also it was a good way to start teaching them and helping them to, well, I don’t think we’ll ever assimilate, but to be able to settle into the culture. And around 1989, we started with the first community and economic development by building housing that was affordable, that was decent and good standards. And most of the time, because they were low-income families, they will be in substandard homes.

Nilda Ruiz (4m 39s):
It was an area that was being disinvested because many of the industries were leaving to either go abroad or other places. So it was leaving the community without jobs. And many of these places were vacant, vacant lots, and it was where they could afford so many of the housing, the windows would not be properly sealed. It was hard to keep heated during the winters. So we started working on that and we started our first project in 1989.

Jeff Wood (5m 6s):
That’s awesome. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a bit. I want to let folks know that they’re listening to the podcasts, that this episode is a part of our health and equitable Tod series. The first episode provides an overview with dr. Georges Benjamin, who is executive director or the American public health association. And the second episode looked at transit service under COVID. And in terms of community service with David Hofacre from the port authority of Allegheny County, which is the transit provider in Pittsburgh. And this episode is going to focus on leveraging Tod to create healthier communities, not only with access to healthcare, but also with other elements that make for a healthier, a zip code. So let’s dive in, let’s talk about Paseo of air day. Where did that come about? And what was the process like for building that development in your transit?

Jeff Wood (5m 46s):
So

Nilda Ruiz (5m 47s):
I’ve been the CEO for the last 15 years. So I came in 2005, but this was a concept that was conceived in 2003. And even though that I was in Washington DC, I did fund APM from D C and I heard Rose talking about how the young lens got her involved with the whole greening aspects. You know, at first we thought all of them were a bunch of tree-huggers and in learning more and more, it just made sense. So it was conceived in 2003, I came in 2005. I thought it was just fabulous, but what was really interesting is that what we thought it was fabulous. It was so new to everyone.

Nilda Ruiz (6m 30s):
Building green was his new. Then on top of that, we were talking about connecting it with transit oriented development and what that meant. And it wasn’t till 2009 that we actually got somebody to bite. It was the new a mayor that had just come in as a mayor Nutter. And he kept talking about how he wanted to make Philadelphia, the greenest city in the country. So we took advantage of that is not in talking to him and say, all right, well, we’ve got the project for you. And even, even with him, it became a little bit of a selling point, but once they got it and it started taking off, we were able to get the city to donate the property for a dollar.

Nilda Ruiz (7m 13s):
And we started working on it. And at that time, that’s the other thing that developers kept looking at it and running away from it. We were able to connect with Jonathan Rose from New York, who was an expert in greening and not scared of it. So we developed a relationship with him. It took 21 financing sources and a little bit from here, a little bit from their city. At the time we had a board member that gave us a first a hundred thousand dollars that Haskins who was a good friend or believed in us, they gave us the first a hundred thousand in planning. So we started working with that and we finished it in 2013.

Nilda Ruiz (7m 55s):
Rose you want to add more to that? The Jonathan Rose the whole coming up this concept,

Rose Gray (8m 1s):
I think it was just a shared response to what we felt. It would be a catalyst for change in the community. We do build through comprehensive planning and Community vision and our partner and Jonathan Ruiz also believed in that. So we decided to do a charrette and bring the community into the process. And many of the green features that we looked at we’re based on the need to create a healthy environment, a walkable community, lower the carbon footprint within the community. And so with all the same philosophies we were able to, as Nilda said, finding 21 subsidies to be able to build the project was a feat in itself.

Rose Gray (8m 46s):
Cause it is a mix of new market tax credit, low income housing tax credits, and private financing. And the partnership is a 40 year equal between APM and the Jonathan various companies. And now that can share the number of units, the importance of the social service programs and the federally qualified health center.

Nilda Ruiz (9m 7s):
So if you could imagine in 1970, this was a neighborhood that we have two highways that go around, so you can skip this neighborhood completely with never having to see it. It was a disinvested, it was, it had lots that people were just dumping on cars and And broken glass. It taught a lot until the turmoil. That was Whoa, that was happening at a time we start building. And when we start building housing at that time, air conditioning was not an important thing. So when we started in 89, we took this factory and we converted it into a affordable one and two bedroom units. So we start evolving. Then after we build like 213 affordable units, we started getting into homeownership.

Nilda Ruiz (9m 54s):
We started getting subsidies and getting people to buy them. At that time, there was a lot of disinvestment and people were leaving the city. So they didn’t think it was going to grow the way that it’s growing right now. So we were being a little bit more generous with our lots. So you’ll find these beautiful homes. They have a carport and they looked like suburban homes. People loved them. And we started building those at 55,009, Oh for San Francisco. You’re like, what? Then the last one up to 160,000. And today there are 300,000. I know for you that it won’t even get to a studio in San Francisco, but different parts of the country different.

Nilda Ruiz (10m 35s):
But what was really different is that we built this beautiful neighborhood of homeownership. It has beautiful, Buildings our facilities. We built a supermarket like Rowe set. We always have Built with community input. So one of the things that the community said, it, it would be so nice to be able to get like some of the produce that we liked, like the breadfruits, the mangoes, the ground provisions that were used to in Puerto Rico. Right? So we were able to bring that supermarket. We were able to bring these things, but when we looked there was this rail station and here in Philadelphia, it’s called SEPTA. There’s a huge divide between our community and the West side and temple university is there to, with all the students, but it was only one block away.

Nilda Ruiz (11m 20s):
But when you look at this side, it was it’s beautiful. The community started engaging with each other. As they started mixing, they have garden clubs and the, it looks really nice. Then you look down the street and it’s dark and dingy. There’s this rail station that is, it’s just dark and uninviting. And then you get to the other side where temple is, and it’s all a lit, it looks affluent and it looks nice. So, you know, connecting those two was a real issue. So, and that’s how that the whole concept of how do we develop that. And for me, I felt, wow, you know, owning a car Today is like having a mortgage.

Nilda Ruiz (11m 60s):
So if we can get our people and changing behavior is the hardest thing for people and getting them to take that mentality. And in fact, I remember when I first told my mom, she goes, Oh, harder for us, who wants to take public transportation for her? She worked in a factory. So public transportation meant sweaty stinking of people with a stinky armpits holding the, the thing she goes, Oh, it was to be in that. Right. But the more I thought, if they were able to do that, they would be able to save money. And we’re, Transportation rich. Philadelphia has a lot of bus lines, we’ve got training. And then this particular train stop was a rail station out to the suburbs.

Nilda Ruiz (12m 43s):
And what we were noticing is the city was increasing on population. A lot of Latinos were moving out into the suburbs. And most of the jobs being created, the growth area was in the suburbs. So this Transportation connected our city, our residence too, where the jobs were. And it also connected those new Latinos families coming into Pennsylvania into the suburbs to a PM where we were a little bit more established with the social services. So it has created that dynamic. We also worked with SEPTA and we got them to invest a million dollars into that station. And they worked with the Philadelphia mural arts.

Nilda Ruiz (13m 23s):
So we have it beautiful murals, nicer lighting. They put nice kiosks to come in and out. So now when you look at , first of all, it’s, it’s vibrant. It just has a pop of color that makes it look really interesting and nice. And it blends in with temples red colors, and then you have the city. So it, it kind of like, it just brought it all together. And now you see people, you know, bikers and go from side to side and you see the, the connection. There’s not that divided between the two communities. I think that is one of the biggest success stories that we’ve seen also anecdotally with the people that have moved in, have told us that they are going less to the hospital’s because of asthma ’cause they have better ventilation.

Nilda Ruiz (14m 9s):
One of the things we do when they move in, as we show them how to use products that are not Clorox, that are not toxic. So they learn there’s a whole education piece we recycled. So they get to also learn how to use products better that are better for the environment. Then we were able to get a federally qualified health center to lease downstairs and we have a pharmacy. So now the residents are able to come down and go to the health center. They have a pharmacy right there. Our headquarters are there, it’s mixed income. So we have market rate and we have the low-income tax credit. So we have people that have subsidies that pay as low as $66 a month.

Nilda Ruiz (14m 50s):
And then we have, others are paying as much as 1400 outside of the financial line. You would not know the difference between the two, the Community side has a Community room, which the Marketside can use as well. And then the Markus side has a Jim, which the low-income side you can use as well. So outside of that, the finishes and everything are the same and people say, or are they, you know, you can’t have mixing come. They don’t, the two communities don’t get along. We have not found any issues. I mean, they work well together. We haven’t had any issues and whatever we’ve heard has been positive.

Jeff Wood (15m 26s):
That’s pretty awesome. One of the big things that I noticed from your project was that it was one of the first or the first to receive the lead platinum rating for a neighborhood design making at one of the greenest developments in the United States. How is it decided to have the project develop in the lead platinum certified? Because that’s a lot of work and for being one of the first ones that was probably even more work. I know that.

Nilda Ruiz (15m 46s):
Yeah. Well, you know, we, we didn’t start with that as the gold, we just, you know, we want it to do it. It, it was a nice outcome to that. So to become a lead certified, you have to have the green elements. So they look, some of the things they look at is, is it a smart location? And does it have the linkages? So as a conserving water, so we have the green roofs, we have a blue roof, which is in blue, but like a big pool and it holds water. So one of the things that city is a very old city, so to fix the it infrastructure it’s in the billions. So what they do with the water department is doing is they’re giving people credit to be able to develop in more of a pervious surfaces.

Nilda Ruiz (16m 29s):
So this lets the water down slowly. So it doesn’t rush into the sewage system. So those are some of the things that a lot of that they look at housing and the proximity to the jobs. So this connects to two, it looks at, you know, the elimination of Brown fields. So the other thing is they look at a neighborhood patterns and designs like, is it walkable? What’s the impact of that development? Does it connect to an open Community? Does it have a street networks? So we worked with the city and with, with the department of health. So our staff works on a walkability rout with the department of health.

Nilda Ruiz (17m 11s):
So we have that connection to it. So those are some of the elements. And then there’s the green infrastructure of the actual building. So the materials are supposed to keep it warm and it does in the winter and it keeps it cool in the summer. So if you use less energy to keep it cool or eat it, it’s a certified green building. So they look at the construction and all that. And then they look at the innovation and the design. And I mean, it took a village. I don’t think any one of us could have come up with all of these elements, but between the community, between Rose and her expertise of all these years, as she has developing Jonathan Rose and his greening mentality and the things that he has done, we were able to bring all these things together.

Nilda Ruiz (18m 2s):
They got us to be the first one in the country, and only second in the world, the first one being in China. And we did get a Chinese delegation that came and they invited us to go see where waiting for this COVID stuff to be done, to be able to go and see if we just AM. We are constantly having students to go through, but Rose, maybe you can talk more about the technical elements of it. Yeah,

Rose Gray (18m 27s):
No, thank you. I think you’ve really hit everything as far as giving the outline the wide lead. And indeed though, it wasn’t intentional. On the beginning, we went to Greenbuild. We went to see other projects across the nation and it, it was like, Oh, this is it. And, and know that often says we’re sometimes saddened by other developers that they don’t have the same philosophy when they’re building affordable housing. And all this says that they can do it here, or they could do it anywhere, especially when we’re reaching the lowest income persons, as well as those that our market rate as well.

Rose Gray (19m 7s):
And then providing services and benefit everybody, whether you’re low income or market. So I think it’s a challenge. We’ve put their, would be more projects like this throughout the country, but it seems like the green thing has kind of waned a little bit on some areas, but we always drive. We have charted Streep is 13 units have a wonderful housing that is an old lead as well. And we’re building a senior spouse housing that we’ll be passive green. So APM has continued with this philosophy. And when we were doing preservation in our community, we also are using techniques, lowering the herders, et cetera, to be more energy efficient, as you know, to set our first set of houses had no air conditioning, just preserved 80 units.

Rose Gray (19m 58s):
They were that happy as tenants and the world because though one can say, well, you know, you’re using energy by your conditioning, but today everyone’s entitled to air conditioning during the summer. And, and I think besides time to we had Nigeria, we had to Australia, we had people from all over the world, as well as within the us coming to visit. And they take little bits and pieces for what APM has done. And everyone is very excited.

Nilda Ruiz (20m 28s):
So this project cost $48 million. We had $12 million in grants and the rest was financed or a new market tax credit. So the financing was really complicated, but is that 48 million to do all of those green elements that we mentioned, it only costs 250,000 in the whole project. So that’s like really minimal compared to 48 million. So that’s why I said, if we can do it, anybody else can do it. And it’s surprising, like some of these elements is not like it’s a big ordeal. Like for that we have, if you look at our building, it has these shade things that were, that go up and down. And, and I thought it was for aesthetics.

Nilda Ruiz (21m 9s):
And here I found out that there’s pipes that are going through their, they have more of a function, but also they serve as a block for the sun. And there are things that are worked in there, the blue roof, and then the green roof. It’s not like it was that much by all of those. And then the little ventilations and the different apartments that make the air quality better. It’s not a whole lot to do. And it just so much better for us for breathing and living healthier that I don’t understand why people don’t do it. And that’s why We, you know, costs a little bit more, but it’s so worth it for the health of the community.

Jeff Wood (21m 48s):
Well, it’s so interesting now, you know, Philadelphia seems to be a leader, especially for stormwater retention now with our programs, for, you know, making sure that a lot of the water goes back into the ground instead of on impervious cover. I’m wondering if you are Building and some of the work that you all did to help to inform that. I mean, you mentioned the mayor being interested in your project and all that stuff. I’m wondering if that connected to that program

Nilda Ruiz (22m 8s):
Rose were at all of those.

Rose Gray (22m 9s):
Yeah, we were one of the first that did the major storm Wood are in what was, is not new. I mean, when you look at a blue roof list of our roofs two years ago were blue roofs. They retained the pool dinner and they helped cool our homes. And we don’t think of it to me when they tried to explain it to know the name of the architect. We were a little hesitant, but when the water department came in and said, Whoa, that’s great in all it is, it was a little filter, as she said in the way where the water, you know, penetrates the filter, it goes down in, into, and then the outside. Now we do have a detention basin. Wood still, again, everything was designed to slow everything down to go into the sewer system.

Rose Gray (22m 51s):
All of our projects, it’s very different. When we first built, everything has to go underground. And we saw in our community a lot in the basements, had the Worcester from the pressure of the hydrostatic pressure coming up. Now we don’t have that. Now it flows in the ground, it goes softly. And so we’ve learned so much and Philadelphia right, is still on the cutting edge of showing the rest of the nation, how to do a good storm water meant in urban environments. So we were one of the first to embrace their concepts and we still work with them on vacant land to create parks. And all, we also use that as another method of order coming off of a Buildings

Jeff Wood (23m 32s):
An important part of your guys’ is work is public health. So you mentioned some of the programs, but I’m wondering what are some of the services you all provide for the community overall?

Nilda Ruiz (23m 39s):
So we have behavioral health, children, protective services. We also do early childhood education pre-K and head start around the house. We worked with the department of health and it’s more around the community engagement. So doing the walkability, we do intergenerational activities where the gardening, teaching people how to do community gardens so they can do their own fresh foods we have, and we’re starting it up again. We had this wonderful food buying club with volunteers. And what I loved about it is that anybody in the community could come, we would get whatever excess produce the farmers would have. We would bring in and people can buy it.

Nilda Ruiz (24m 20s):
And you didn’t have to show a card. You did have to show that you’re low income. So everybody would come and they would pre-order it. And we got to how much, like, I know it was tons, the truck loads that we got a fruit on the fruit buying club, but it got so large that it was difficult to run. It was just volunteers. So we just had a study done and they showed us how we can at least break even so that we could hire someone because it takes a lot of coordination. So we’re in the process of starting that again with healthy foods and the, you know, just the community development with all those social determinants of health. You know, because I always mentioned that I theory of change is that people can thrive in a healthy environment.

Nilda Ruiz (25m 5s):
So if you have a child in a healthy home, they’re going to thrive in a healthy home and a healthy neighborhood will thrive in. If the neighborhood is a healthy, the city will thrive, right? So the concentric circles of the health and environment,

Rose Gray (25m 18s):
We have a strong organizing component. I mean, we’re now COVID compliant, but we still go door to door. We have a housing counseling program. We’re working with renters right now. And eviction, the moratorium is the end of that is coming upon us. Or the homeless made look a lot different than, I mean, I’d been to San Francisco many times and it’s very sad. And I think we’ll see more of that across the nation. So we address that. We have a financial opportunity center that looks at everybody. What benefits can you get? Snap, can you get childcare of benefits? So we look at the whole person and then we have for NACY or Starr daycare center at a headstart programs can put their children through a, an educational process.

Rose Gray (26m 5s):
So we are multifaceted with the largest employer of minorities and the city of Philadelphia and 90% of our staff that were 400. I think Nilda, yeah, they were culturally competent. And the services we provide and we think that’s really important.

Nilda Ruiz (26m 21s):
So we we’ve done the food, buying the walkability, and then we work with making more outdoor spaces where people can congregate in a healthy way. But like Rose said, with the COVID, we’ve been communicating with people with their cell phones, a lot of zoom meetings. It was really difficult at the beginning because not everybody has wifi. And today we realize that internet connection is not a luxury anymore. It’s a way to be, to get connected. So the school district here gave a lot of tablets out so that the education is at home. And then we realized that we still had like 20,000 kids in our neighborhood that did not have any wifi.

Nilda Ruiz (27m 1s):
So we’ve been working. Most of them, we’ve already gotten them either a hot spot or connecting them with a Comcast internet essentials. I don’t know if you have that out there, but I think we do. Yeah. It’s like $10 and they can get, you know, high speed internet and the city has been working with folks to, so we’ve gotten a lot better, but we still, there’s still a digital divide. We still want to have some, especially among the seniors that are, they scared of technology.

Jeff Wood (27m 27s):
Yeah. And that’s something that I read two is that you all use to give out tokens for the subway and for buses and Philadelphia was famous for its token. I think I kept to a couple when I last time I was there, but now it’s a digital format. And so that affects how you all do your work as well. I imagine.

Nilda Ruiz (27m 44s):
So they changed to these fare cards and there’s all these challenges. W first of all, it’s, the fairs are still too high for our community. So in hindsight, which probably should have worked with the state or more to get subsidies for a low income. And we are still working on that, but we’re not there. The other thing is that if they get one card, every individual has to have one. So you can’t get a mom with some kids with the same card, each one. So that, that brings another dynamic two, the whole fair. So it’s been a challenge for us. And then when people would come to the office, we would give him a token to either get back or to get to our office. Then there’s these transfers that, or not any more, I don’t know, a rosier.

Nilda Ruiz (28m 26s):
You just need to be a little bit more in tune with this.

Rose Gray (28m 28s):
The transfers were free. Now you pay a dollar or $2 or whatever. And I haven’t kept up with a cost during COVID, but its really not user friendly. We have, the FSE would give out tokens. So if you were going to a job that we can give you a few tokens now, you know, we have to go find out how to get a pass. It it’s it’s labor intensive. It’s not cost-effective people lose. It can convince anybody to go back to the tokens, but we are advocating Nilda can tell she was on a PM employees plus Nilda board and vision zero. We are involved in a transit equity coalition and trans where it sold off your forward. And these are new things that are we’re embarking on and try to make that impression.

Rose Gray (29m 14s):
It was important that Nilda everybody in the focus with a zero vision because they were talking about a center city areas, bicycle paths, all this, instead of, you know, the issues that our community people drive it up, this street killed three kids on our way or you know, so

Nilda Ruiz (29m 34s):
Yeah, it’s really important that we’re at these tables. And I would tell other nonprofits because sometimes, you know, we talk a lot about the inequality, racism and, and sometimes I don’t think it’s so much racism. People know what they see, right? So the folks downtown, you know that their lifestyle is very different. So they’re looking at bike trails. Their conversations are very different than what our community is experiencing. They don’t ride bikes, they walk wherever they go. So it’s M, it was a little bit different, but we’ve been able to bring in the conversation to be, make it more pedestrian friendly. And now, you know, starting to move up, the bike trails are starting to move up into our community.

Nilda Ruiz (30m 16s):
I’m seeing more and more people using bikes. And now we have the shared bikes in our community. Like every quarter of mile, you know, its an education and it takes time and is just different. And we’re getting there.

Jeff Wood (30m 29s):
You mentioned community outreach. And one of the things that I was interested in is something that’s happening in Atlanta too. And I think it’s happening where you are is that there’s a community just outside of downtown where people who have owned their houses for a really long time are getting kind of preyed upon in terms of, you know, people try to buy their houses for cheap, the folks that are living there, they don’t know the actual value of their house. The person might come and say, Hey, I can give you a hundred thousand dollars straight away in their house. Like you said, it is actually where $300,000. But they don’t know that because they are not plugged into Zillo or whatever else. And I’m wondering how the community outreach is working for you all. And in that realm, in terms of helping people realize what the value of their property is or the value of where they live,

Nilda Ruiz (31m 10s):
That has been a huge challenge for us were in an area. And I get around that we don’t have a Starbucks yet, but I think we actually do down by the fire temple, but it is getting gentrified quickly. And every piece of land that we look at, a developer has been approaching the city and you’ll go by one week and next week, some things going up and yeah, they go around and they say, Oh, well we’ll give you 40,000. And for them that’s a lot of money. They probably bought it for five or $10,000. We’ve lost a few homes to that. But I think the community now is wising up because we’ve been in the community connectors have actually been out there educating the community.

Nilda Ruiz (31m 52s):
So now they’re like, Oh no, I’m not letting go of my house. I understand it’s worth something. And we’ve been, you know, letting them know this is your future. At some point you’re going to retire. You’re going to, this will be, what’s going to take you through that. So we try to get them to connect the value of their home and where we are right now. So the staff has been very creative during this pandemic time because while people are at home, the developers are a great time to do construction, not a whole lot of people. So they’ve been doing these caravans like a parade or our neighborhood is not for sale. We’ll sell your house. People come out and then they give them fliers. They educate them on what their homes are worth.

Nilda Ruiz (32m 31s):
So, you know, people are realizing the value of the sad thing is that at some point, you know, the people that are there that have taken a stake in this community for a really long time, how do we keep it affordable for them? New money is coming in and they just can’t afford, you know, those resources that we’re trying to see how we can continue. But I think what we end up doing is slowing it down and maybe getting the newcomers with the old ones to start working together. But you know, at some point I don’t know how long you can hold that back. And you know, studies have shown that if you’re more than seven miles from your job, it becomes really difficult.

Nilda Ruiz (33m 12s):
And people are just getting pushed further, further until the Northeast and out into the suburbs. So

Rose Gray (33m 19s):
We worked with the Community legal services and there is a bill and this is just came out. Today bill to Oh four or five of five and the entire team displacement bill for a predatory homebuyers. So we just got a notice that that actually today. So it’s very timely because a, we have to encourage the residents not to sell, you know, when you’re looking at somebody and this happened, remember with passio Verdes around the corner from Policy of Verde. When the first word came out, that it was going to be built a speculator. And I won’t say his name, but came around on a Saturday, handing out $50,000 cash to five homeowners in a row who took it and signed to quick deed.

Rose Gray (34m 6s):
We like LinkedIn, I it, it breaks my heart to this day. Now the good news is because of positive Verde. The public housing around us was taken down is being rebuilt to replace public housing, beautiful public health, and it’s all around. So they, they got it. Didn’t stop. He wasn’t able to stop affordable housing, but he did take advantage of those residents. And that is so sad. And wealth-building nobody want to talk just briefly about wealth building about Pradera, how the residents, what the home’s for 50,000, then the reason we’re encouraging them to stay

Nilda Ruiz (34m 44s):
Following the developer across the street where we did a silver, there, there are a lot of vacant homes and shame on us because number one rule of developing is that you have to own the property. And many times we we’ll go to the city. We have them hold it for us because there’s a holding costs. You have to pay insurance. You have to have the upkeep. If anybody gets heard on their, you got to keep insurance and we’re not, you know, we are non-profits so we don’t have any extra excess revenue. So we try to hold off on that. And on these, we were thinking of maybe doing market rate, home ownership, and we had this whole linear park that was going to go through the whole neighborhood. And this developer came by and just pick them all up.

Nilda Ruiz (35m 26s):
And I mean, our project has been transformative. We see that the change in the community, but that was a missed opportunity for a neighborhood, but in wealth Building, you know, we have that, we’ve taken from homelessness to home ownership. We’ve been around for 50 years. So we have enough time to see the transformation in a family. We have several stories, but she’s allowed us to tell our story. We used to have a shelter. She came to our shelter with her children running away from an abusive husband and M she use to help around. And we gave her a little part-time job. Then she went and she got a full-time job. And the social services working with her mentally, the whole behavioral health on how to deal with this abuse and how not to take and what to do with her children.

Nilda Ruiz (36m 9s):
So we helped her out mentally that way. She rented one of our, our, our, our first department. And she says, you know, I want to own one of those houses. So she started going to the housing counseling and started saving up as we started building and she was working and saving, working, and saving. And she bought her first house for $55,000. And she moved in there with our three girls today. She is working full-time for the council president. Her daughter is now the homeowner, if the other one is in college. And so that whole cycle has just been broken. And now she’s got a family that are also homeowners that are going to College and we have several like that.

Nilda Ruiz (36m 52s):
So it’s not just the bricks and mortar on what you see, but, but the impact that you make on these families and the wealth building that comes from that. Now you have a generation that will pass assets to the next generation. And so on

Rose Gray (37m 6s):
The 150 homes. So I’ll just say with the F we sold for 55, created a market to 90, then created a market, a 160. That was a sweet spot that was ended. We stopped developing home ownership in 2010. The house is Today are worth 300,000. Now they had to keep it affordable for 15 years. Only two out of a, 150 have sold. We have to help create a generation of people that will be able to send their children to college. And so we’re very joyous and that as we manage our economic change in the community, so that there is no displacement a week, we are trying now to do another a hundred and some homes, and we’ll do some market that will help subsidize down to 80% of the other half.

Rose Gray (37m 60s):
So we’re trying to Today that mixed income theory. We’re going to try to do that because we think homeownership is as important as rental. We need both. We need people to have the room wealth Building ability through homeownership and renters, to be able to let another renter come in. And I know it may be different in San Francisco, but still he’s a real, I want to own a home.

Jeff Wood (38m 24s):
Well, we do to it. It’s just like weather. You have a million, $2 million or not. That’s the problem, which is insane, but that’s a whole other discussion obviously, but I mean, that’s kind of connected to another thought I have is that, you know, you, you all are doing such a great job in building wealth for people in building homes, for people. How does, you know the change of the center city and how it’s reaching you all effect that in your ability to do that because as the property values increased, as the interest increases in, must be harder to build homes that, or, you know, you started out at 55,000, that’s pretty inexpensive, but it must be going up and up. Like you mentioned,

Nilda Ruiz (39m 1s):
So the conundrum that we have is that, so there’s a, a restriction on these homes that when they purchase it, they have to keep them 15 to 20 years affordable. Right. But for some of them, they know it’s past that. And so now if they decide to sell and it’s okay, I mean, that’s the American dream, right? They have all these assets, but you know, then we lose an affordable home for an affordable Fallon. So we are thinking through this right now, like, you know, I’m really split on it. Some people are talking about having a land trust in that way. You know, you have an area that you’re able to keep affordable for future generations.

Nilda Ruiz (39m 42s):
I mean, that’s, that’s one way of doing it. The other side of it is, you know, they’ve stayed there 20 years and they’ve worked and they’ve gotten a better future. So, you know, I was born in Philly in North Philly and I got to go to college through Pell grants. So, you know, and here I am in this position and I’ve been able to invest and, you know, accumulate, it’s funny to say wealth because there’s no way that that’s even considered wealth, but I’ve been able to have some savings, right. That I can live a comfortable, right. Where no one is telling me to give back my Pell grant or to pay it. It’s in my brain that I’ve been able to do something with my degree. And in the same way, you know, we’re, we’re helping these families and future generations.

Nilda Ruiz (40m 24s):
So, you know, there’s a philosophy, well, you didn’t pay market rate for it. So you should not have rights to that and you should give something back. But then again, they’ve had to keep it affordable for 15, 20 years. So it, it it’s, I dunno, it’s a vicious circle. The one that we’re working through to see, and, you know, the land trusts is becoming more appealing just to be able to keep, you know, some homes affordable and, and keep the Community. But you know, we’ve Rosa and I have taught about this a lot. Then you really can’t engineer a neighborhood of forced people to be together. When we first started out, 90% was Puerto Rican. So most of the housing and everything we did was Puerto Rican.

Nilda Ruiz (41m 6s):
And today the, the neighborhood is a half Puerto Rican, half African-American. Everybody told us, you know, that’s not gonna work Latinos. And African-Americans just to not mix. And we don’t have the issues that other communities, they, I think when people get to know each other and they realize that we’re all people just like everyone else. And they were very well together. In fact, we have a neighborhood advisory council and the president was Latino and the vice-president was African-American. He then speak a word of English and the African American, they would speak a word of Spanish. I don’t know how they understood each other, but they’re like really good friends.

Nilda Ruiz (41m 49s):
They go everywhere together. And I’m like, does he understand what you just said? That he knows? You knows that I’m calling him. And then the other one says, Oh yeah, I understand what he’s trying to tell me. It is, they get along. And if you drive by and I invite you that if you’re ever in Philly combined visit the neighborhood has curb appeal. It’s, it’s a nice neighborhood. And people get along the families, they watch out for each other. And you know, the crime rate has reduced a lot in our neighborhoods and we get some tips or whatever, but we didn’t have the violent crime that we see and other areas of the city. Cause they all watch out for each other.

Rose Gray (42m 25s):
Yeah. I think, I think that the push from center city has come. It’s like field of dreams. If you build it, they will come. But we really didn’t want to build a new car. Now it’s like, if you would help, if we could have continued to manage change, we believe that mixed-income, as you can say, but we also know that you have to make sure that people aren’t displaced, etc. So we had no opportunity. They just came well in a properties. People sold city gave them the properties they’re in the city’s been good to us, so I’m not criticizing, but what’s interesting is they want to come a day or areas that we’ve stabilized and we’re trying to maintain cultural identity, et cetera.

Rose Gray (43m 9s):
Whereas our state encourages organizations like us to build a more wealthier communities to help create a mixed income, but they’re not welcomed. That’s the nitty gritty. So we’re not allowed to be NIMBY. They can come in, but they can be an MB and say, don’t come in. And so that’s, it’s very disheartening, but that’s why when Nilda we were talking about anti-displacement do not leave, keep your assets, you know, et cetera. So that’s our job right now and try to apply our with some of these groups to say, Hey, our council, woman’s tried to create a 20%, has to be affordable. If you’re going to do these major projects, all kinds of things, legislation, and we can only stand behind her and others and say, you know, our city’s innovate.

Rose Gray (43m 58s):
Let me say Philadelphia. This state of a very innovative, they’re trying to pass a 400 in code in a $400 million bond bill to put more money into affordability, housing counseling, small business, et cetera. So I think we’re blessed in Philly and the state. We just have to, you know, keep plugging along.

Jeff Wood (44m 19s):
You all have the health center, the pharmacy, multiple different community services, childcare, et cetera. I’m wondering if you’ve seen a difference in the health outcomes of residents to live in, in the property or in the neighborhood overall. I mean, you just mentioned how everybody seems to get along and it’s a, a wonderful community, but I’m wondering if you actually seen any, you know, markers that show that this is, is getting healthier.

Nilda Ruiz (44m 40s):
I think that what I had mentioned earlier that we’ve, we’ve had, you know, an antidote at least that, that some of the community have told us that they’d been going to the doctors less because of their asthma also in the way they maintain their homes, you know, it’s clean, it’s walkable. I think that shows a lot to go ahead.

Rose Gray (44m 59s):
Well, I think you mentioned earlier, so besides walkability and a weatherization of houses, we helped preserve over a hundred homeowner houses of low-income persons through a grant program that gave $40,000 to put new windows, doors, roofs, et cetera, the food, the food buying club, teaching people. We do outreach when it’s not COVID to show people what portion controls are, What fruit and vegetables. So we tried it healthy eating along with your walking and people wanna come. We had 400 subscribers to our volunteer, to bike club, 400 within a small community

Nilda Ruiz (45m 43s):
In the city, also tracks like the recycling and re so they have these maps and read is absolute, you know, nobody recycles. And then they start getting, you know, lighter red, yellow. And it goes up to the green where everybody recycles and the bins have like a little barcode. So our neighborhood has moved from the red red to that light yellow side. So people are recycling more. So we see that change of behavior in people in the, in the community. So those a little indicators that we see more and more, but we have a study that actually shows outcomes.

Nilda Ruiz (46m 23s):
Now the Pew foundation did M. They did a report on poverty in Philadelphia, and they came and talked to our community and they said, you know, you guys have been here 40 years combating this whole poverty. And here we are 40 years later and you’re still a low income community. And we thought about it for a minute. And it made me think, you know, I grew up in this neighborhood, right where, you know, it was socially and economically disadvantaged. I went to college and I moved down. And most of the families that I grew up with, I don’t live there anymore. So they come in because it’s affordable. And then we ended up moving out when, you know, the means can afford to do something better.

Nilda Ruiz (47m 6s):
So even though that they think it’s still like a low income area, it’s not the same community that was there 30, 40 years ago. The other thing that I would say about that, the community that they mentioned is that many of them are working class people, but they are working in factories or the services. And they probably make as much as somebody who’s in public assistance, you know, which is, that’s a other dynamic. You know, you work in these really low paying jobs. And it’s like, why when you work so hard, as you know, you can afford the medical, you can afford a lot of the services that you get for free, if you are on public assistance. But many of these families are working, you know, low income working families.

Jeff Wood (47m 49s):
I feel like I talk to you all day about this. That is so interesting, but I have one last question for you. Do you have any advice for Community developers around the country that might be trying to do similar things as you all are doing green building community centers, health impact stuff. I’m curious if there’s any words of wisdom for other folks that might be trying to do the same wonderful things you all are doing

Rose Gray (48m 9s):
Political will know that. Right. I think we always said that if you can get the political will, that will never happen. So it’s influenced.

Nilda Ruiz (48m 17s):
Yeah. So like we started at the beginning, right? That we conceive this in 2003, we didn’t get any bites until 2009. We’ve finished that in 2013 and now we’re in 2020 and people are still talking about it and you don’t have more, like we would of thought that more of these projects we’ll be happening and they are not. And, and part of it is the political will be understanding were in a different climate, you know, administratively where, you know, the green building is not at the forefront, so it’s a different philosophy, but I just think we have to keep preaching it and, and showing examples of what has been done and try to do more of it.

Nilda Ruiz (48m 57s):
I mean, we’re trying to get to lower emissions with the cars and we should be doing the same with the Buildings and keep pressing on this because it’s, it’s for the health of the community and for the longevity of it, you know, it, it, it, it takes political will. I’m not sure how it can accelerate that more. I remember even though that we are under mayor Nutter, he asked me to be co-chair of his transition team. And I was very afraid. Cause I said, you know, I’ve never been on anything political. And I was afraid that I would harm him. But even though that I have that close relationship with him where I had his cell number and I go call him, it took a long time to get him to buy into it. And once he did and he understood it, you know, all Gates opened in water or food, but, but it, there are others that are coming after him that are not getting in this current mayor wrote a whole white paper about how our project is the best example of public and private development money coming together.

Nilda Ruiz (49m 57s):
And academically, I guess he gets it, but there’s not more of it happening, you know? So they used to have the politicians had this walk around money that they use to call where they could decide. And when they see a bad, but in our case, it was a good thing because Senator Casey was able to give us $400,000. The governor gave us 4 million to governor Randell before he left. And then in that transition of him and rich, we 2 million that came from the one Before. So between them, that was the discretionary money that they can put to the project. So we got almost $7 million from that discretionary money to put into this project.

Nilda Ruiz (50m 42s):
So that’s why, you know, I think about it and I don’t know how a project like ours could happen again without having the political will and the discretionary funds to be able to do something like that. So, you know, I don’t know how we would do it now in the eye. And the project has paid for itself. We’ve been a hundred percent rented from day one. We thought the first three years, our debt coverage ratio, we would have a little bit of a deficit until the third year, year one, we have had no deficits. In fact, we were thinking of up in the rents, but then we have an 80% area, medium income that we have to keep. So we can’t do that or else we would, you know, price it out for them, but it’s a good project.

Nilda Ruiz (51m 29s):
And it has been very low maintenance. It’s made money. A, it didn’t cost that much more than a regular building. It’s only $250,000 more and a $48 million project. So I don’t know why there’s not more of it done, but I would say if people have the idea, just keep pressing on it. And it’s not that much more to build Greene than a regular development.

Rose Gray (51m 53s):
I think it’s also a storytelling telling your story, being able to tell your story. I think the APM has a rich history, integrity, getting your projects done on time on budget, and then having the confidence of a city that was innovative to know that when the eight acres of vacant land, they gave it to nonprofits, nonprofits, rebuild and stabilize. Most of the communities and Philadelphia that the for profits are now benefiting from that story is not told nonprofits lead the way. And then I think there’s sadly the recognition. Like I spoke at a conference once and I was shattered them rightfully so in an organization that works on tobacco root, they don’t even have our sewer, no infrastructure.

Rose Gray (52m 41s):
And they are listening to me. We talk about Panera and Building these houses getting ready to go. And they said, ladies, we still have our houses. You’re here and talking about this. So that was the role and money. And, you know, I went on and I realized, and that is, I’ve been fortunate and know that as we go across the country, there are areas that will not be ready for any of this for a long time. So we have to look at who we’re speaking with, what did we learn by doing something maybe differently that we can help them with? But again, it is not as a political wealth Policy and somebody out there with deep pockets or at least LAN, I want to thank you all for coming on the show.

Jeff Wood (53m 26s):
Rose and Nilda, we really appreciate your time and what you’ve been able to do. Well, thank you different. Thank you for having us. Yeah. And thanks for joining us. The Talking Headways Podcast is your project, or have you ever had wire on the [email protected] sign up for a free trial of The Overhead Wire Daley or a 14 year old daily city’s newsletter by clicking the link at the top, right of The Overhead wire.com. And please, please, please put the pod. I’m going to hit you up on.com/the Overhead Wire many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, overclass Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find a traditional [email protected]

Jeff Wood (54m 9s):
See you next time at Talking Headways.


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