A year ago, the 16-story Queen Lane Apartments public-housing high-rise came down in a giant cloud of dust.

On Tuesday, the new Queen Lane Apartments opened up amid smiles and balloons.

"Our day has come," said Corliss Gray, head of the Queen Lane Resident Council. "People are going to be glad to come and live here."

About 5,000 people applied for a chance to live in one of the 55 affordable-rental units, a mix of two-story flats, walk-up apartments, and three-story townhouses at 300 W. Queen Lane in Germantown.

The first eight families are moving in now - and helped turn a ribbon-cutting into a celebration on Tuesday. They were joined by Mayor Nutter, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, and other city and federal officials.

The apartments - most still under construction, with stickers on windows and work crews moving in and out - were built in a manner to preserve what had been an 18th-century potter's field for African American dead.

The old high-rise, a relic of 1950s urban planning, had been built on top of the graveyard. A subsequent archaeological dig found no human remains, and it appeared the graves might have been exhumed to make way for the tower's construction.

Still, local residents persuaded the Philadelphia Housing Authority to respect the site. The new housing was built around, rather than on top of, the old burial ground.

Germantown, home to about 23,000 people, is a changing neighborhood. The poverty rate is 26 percent, the average income $48,044. One in five residents hasn't graduated from high school, while more than one in four has a college degree.

Germantown ranks 25th out of 55 neighborhoods in violent crime, and 35th in property crime, according to an Inquirer analysis.

"The housing quality standards matter," City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who represents the area, told a crowd of about 150. "Where people live matters. What they're exposed to matters."

Marquita Poteat, a 31-year-old city clerk, said she was shocked to win what was a long-odds lottery for an apartment. She, her two sons, and her sister will live there together, she said.

"It's a beautiful home," Poteat said. "It feels great."

Another new resident, Sidney Anderson, said she was "so grateful me and my kids have a place to call home."

Blue-and-white balloons framed the doorway of a sample apartment, a radical new look for a site that a year ago was a pile of brick and rubble.

The old high-rise was imploded in September. A demolition crew needed only 10 seconds to wipe out 60 years of history - to the delight of many who watched the building come down.

On Tuesday, people who used to live there described the high rise as, at one time, a place where the halls were swept, friends were like family, and personal safety was a given.

"For the holidays, you didn't need to go out," said an 80-year-old woman who declined to give her name. "The village, that's what it was."

By the end, it was a place where elevators didn't work and crime threatened.

It seemed impossible Tuesday that such a fate could ever befall the new Queen Village apartments, their sidewalks barely trod and green lawn rolled out before several units.

"This has been a long time coming, and thank God we're here," said PHA Board Chairwoman Lynette Brown-Sow. "There's more coming. We are working and building in Germantown."

Maritza Davis, 38, came to the grand opening hoping for a chance at an apartment. She's hoping to provide a home for the six children of a deceased close friend.

"I'm hoping to get on the list," she said. "With God's help, we'll be all right. Or the city's help."

The apartments, several people noted, are close to SEPTA bus lines, Regional Rail service, and Route 1. City and PHA officials promised that while the Queen Lane homes were the newest in Germantown, they would not be the last.

"The revolution has started in Germantown," said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, speaking especially to the new residents. "They're coming home for the holidays."

215-854-4906 @JeffGammage