New housing units for homeless developing next to church in Old City

It’s the start of a new chapter in Old City. 

"We live in a nation that has incredible resources and riches, yet we haven’t done a very good job in distributing them evenly, at least enough so that everyone can have basic necessities," said Pastor Michael Caine, of Old First Church.

Pastor Caine is looking to change that in Old City, as city leaders and community members broke ground on a new project called Old First House. 

It will bring a mixed use development right next to the church, with 34 permanent housing units to house those experiencing homelessness. 

"As a pastor, I worried before we got this far that when we told the neighborhood what we wanted to do, we were really going to get push back because Old City is a really comfortable neighborhood and we were bringing people who were economically very different and demographically very different," said Pastor Caine.

He says the project has mixed reviews but mostly positive ones, including support from local leaders. 

"We looked at sheltering in 1986, when you bring people in, that was never the intention to keep people in shelters forever, it was always to move them on. How do we do a continuation of care, how do we move people up and then make them sustainable, this project is a way to start that process," said Philadelphia Councilmember Mark Squilla, of the First District.

Housing model for 34-unit development 

For many years, the Old First Church was being used as a shelter, housing homeless men within their building. 

"It’s great that we provided a warm shelter where it’s safe all winter, but you got to do more than just a place on the floor, and a plastic tub for their belongings. We didn’t think that was possible," said Pastor Caine. 

Come next Monday, the historic building that is currently next to the church, that has been there for more than 250 years, will be moved 50 feet south, making room for the new housing development. 

"Folks who are of low income don’t often feel welcome in communities like this one, it’s the old nimbyism that tend to characterize where we locate affordable housing across the city," says Kelvin Jeremiah, the President & CEO Philadelphia Housing Authority.

This project will be long-term housing and will select those who are next on the waiting list for housing, to provide them with a home. 

Something Jeremiah hopes to see happen across the city. 

"I subscribe to the notion that there shouldn’t be anywhere in a city like Philadelphia where folks of lesser means shouldn’t or couldn’t live," says Jeremiah.

Officials are hoping for the development to be completed and move in ready by the end of December 2024.