PHILADELPHIA HAS yet another plan for Osage Avenue.
Thirty-one years after a police bomb set the 6200 block ablaze, destroying 61 homes, city officials hope to finally remedy the block's continuing problems created by the abandonment of poorly constructed replacement homes.
City officials now say they want to restore the community, help it heal and move forward. A request for proposals was issued last week seeking a developer to purchase and develop 36 vacant properties along the 6200 blocks of Osage Avenue and Pine Street.
"We're overjoyed," said Gerald Wayne Renfrow, 70, president of the Osage Pine Community Association and a native of the 6200 block of Osage.
It is a long time coming.
On May 13, 1985, police fired thousands of rounds of ammunition and dropped a bomb on 6221 Osage Ave., which served as the headquarters for the radical group MOVE. Six adults and five children, who were part of MOVE, were killed. The whole block went up in flames, along with the 6200 block of Pine Street, leaving 250 people homeless.
The city, through the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, condemned the two-block site and hired a developer to construct 61 new homes. Families moved back to their neighborhood. Ten years later, the Rendell administration ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to examine the homes due to residents' complaints.
The Army Corps found that the homes did not meet building-code standards. The city at the time paid for new windows and doors, but more work was needed, and the cost became too much. In 2000, the city offered residents $150,000 each to relocate. Thirty-six families accepted the offer and 16 families remained in their homes, according to the Redevelopment Authority.
One of those who remained was Renfrow.
The 36 homes that the city bought in 2000 were boarded up and have remained so ever since.
Jamila Davis, spokeswoman for the Redevelopment Authority, said she can't speak to the work other administrations "did or did not do." But she said that turning vacant land and properties into productive use is a "high priority" for the Kenney administration.
"PRA's goal is to ensure that what happened in the previous rehabilitation effort would not be repeated," Davis said.
The abandoned brick townhouses with wooden boards covering windows and doors have become magnets for criminal activity.
Renfrow said drug deals happen almost daily on the block; prostitutes and their clients dispose of condoms on the street; homeowners have been mugged coming come; and squatters have broken into the abandoned homes.
"We've had the whole gamut of ills for the last 16 years," Renfrow said.
Even so, Renfrow has refused to move. He was born and raised just a few houses down the block. He later purchased his own home there and raised three children there.
He recalled how his children would play with MOVE children and how after the bombing that killed some of those very children, he had no explanation to offer his own kids.
"Why did they shoot and kill the children? That's a question we couldn't answer," he said, sitting in the foyer of his home.
Davis, the spokeswoman for the Redevelopment Authority, said the agency recognizes that the 6200 blocks of Osage and Pine "have been disrupted for over 30 years."
"It is our goal to restore these blocks to productive use, and bring restoration to this community," Davis said. "This project is designed to heal these blocks, create homes in this neighborhood, and help the community move forward."
Renfrow said he hopes that the Redevelopment Authority selects a developer who will rehabilitate the vacant homes as opposed to demolishing and rebuilding. He and his neighbors, most of whom have been there decades, want homeowners, not renters.
Despite the boarded-up homes, Renfrow said he and his neighbors keep the streets clean of trash and look out for one another.
"For too long we've been denied a normal life, which we did have before the city turned our lives upside down with the MOVE bombing," Renfrow said.
The Redevelopment Authority will hold a walk-through of the neighborhood at 10 a.m. Monday, starting at 6216 Osage Ave. Proposals are due by Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.