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Saturday, September 2, 2000

MOVE homes' boarding up begins

By Monica Yant Kinney INQUIRER STAFF WRITER While city inspectors worked to keep up with collapsing buildings this week, a handful of residents in the MOVE neighborhood in West Philadelphia quietly began leaving their long-troubled homes. Three families have already left; six more are expected to be gone by Tuesday.

City crews sent yesterday to board up the now-abandoned houses in the 6200 blocks of Pine Street and Osage Avenue were met with hostility from residents when workers smashed two new windows at one house and kicked in a locked door at another.

"They're just busting things up. What a waste of money," said Betty Mapp, a longtime Osage resident who also had the $800 windows recently installed in her house by the city.

Mapp said that the man who kicked in a door across the street "terrified" her young grandchildren.

The city and neighbors have had a long, fractious relationship since the city's 1985 bombing of the MOVE headquarters, which killed 11 people and set off a fire that destroyed the 61 rowhouses.

The city paid a contractor to rebuild the homes, but it was done poorly.

Construction and repairs cost more than $16 million. New repairs could cost $13 million.

Faced with spiraling costs, Mayor Street decided in July to buy out the property owners for $150,000 each and demolish the houses.

As of yesterday, 36 households had taken the city's offer to move, according to Street's press office. The original deadline was Wednesday, but city officials have promised to be flexible. By the time all 36 families leave, there will be just one homeowner left on the Pine Street block.

More than two dozen homeowners have filed for an injunction against what they call a forced eviction.

The city last month began the lengthy process of taking control of the remaining houses by eminent domain.

In that case, owners would receive only market value, roughly $70,000 per house.

Residents fighting the city suggested that the window smashing yesterday was an attempt to intimidate them into leaving.

Because of the moving trucks expected to converge on the street this weekend, the neighbors had to cancel their annual Labor Day block party for the first time in decades.

"I guess they're trying to aggravate us," Gerald Wayne Renfrow said. "We're too strong for that."

"We won't be threatened," added Thomas Mapp, Betty's husband. The couple are fighting eviction.

Barbara Grant, Street's director of communications, said the city has no ill intentions.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "Nobody wants to cause the people on Osage Avenue any more pain than they've already endured."

Of the 36 families taking the city's offer, 27 were in owner-occupied homes. Renters living in sold houses will receive $5,000.

Of the three families who have left, two moved to temporary housing at their own expense and one moved to Horsham. Of the half-dozen families leaving this weekend, four have found permanent housing.

The mayor's office said that three people who had originally joined the lawsuit have changed their minds and taken the money. Daniel A. Rendine, the residents' attorney, was on vacation and unavailable for comment yesterday.

Grant said city officials are worried that some residents involved in the court action might not fully understand its implications.

"We are concerned that there is some confusion out there," she said. "Being a part of the lawsuit complicates the issue of the settlement. Our position is that you can't" get the $150,000 if you are part of the suit.

Yesterday's incident began when maintenance workers from the Philadelphia Housing Authority started boarding up the three now-vacant houses.

Usually, city workers would try to salvage new windows. But at 6218 Osage Ave., they shattered two eight-foot-high panes, scattering glass on the porch and sidewalk.

Sam Nicholson, a properties manager with the city's Risk Management Department, said he had the action halted when he heard about the broken windows.

"They didn't need to break them," Nicholson said.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Monica Yant Kinney's e-mail address is ) 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

-- K (, September 02, 2000

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