Eladia Fonseca came to Philadelphia as a 9-year-old burn victim, her mother seeking better care for her daughter than what was available after their home in Puerto Rico destroyed by fire.
Fonseca endured years of living in inadequate housing here, some of which had no heat, was infested with mice and bugs and was surrounded by drug activity.
Now 51, Fonseca proudly showed off her cozy, newly renovated three-bedroom home, one of 58 affordable-housing units scattered around her Spring Garden neighborhood that are part of a $19.6 million project that was unveiled yesterday. The Philadelphia Housing Authority, Spring Garden Community Development Corp. and Michaels Development Co., a private affordable-housing developer, joined to create the project.
Fonseca, who has already lived in the house for a year with her three daughters and grandchildren, was one of the early beneficiaries of the development. It's a big improvement over their last digs.
"It was crazy," said her eldest daughter, 28, who declined to give her name. "There were drugs and guys on the corner. I grew up here, an area where I didn't want to be around."
Much of that has changed in the neighborhood, partly because the new model for affordable homes blends low-income and market-rate housing to create a "society that works," said PHA Executive Director Carl Greene. "The design provides an impetus for community unity."
Units in the project, which won an award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia because Victorian-era details were part of the restorations, are available for households earning from zero to 60 percent of the area median income. Thirty-two units will be reserved for existing PHA families, Greene said.
During renovations, families living in the targeted homes were relocated with costs subsidized by the federal government, then moved into the homes once they were finished.
Fonseca was 4 years old when she incurred burns to 50 percent of her body. Her mother brought her to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico in search of better health care, and the two were placed in housing by a social worker at nearby Hahnemann University Hospital.
Fonseca has had nine surgeries, has seizures and walks with a cane. Despite her hardships, she was thrilled when she learned she would move into a newly renovated home.
"I was so happy," Fonseca said.
Her daughter said: "I'm just fortunate that she has the opportunity to live here. My mom is happy to stay in this area. We really needed this."
Those interested in living in the new development must apply in person at the Spring Garden CDC office, 601 N. 17th St.