Nearly 25 years after police dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization’s home in West Philadelphia, residents of the infamous 6200 block of Osage Avenue claim the city has dropped the ball on helping them once and for all.
Neighbors say that since the police set the block ablaze on May 13,1985, the city has yet to help them restore the block that they burnt down. While the city rebuilt the destroyed homes within a year, they did not rebuild the confidence in dozens of residents, block captain Gerald Renfrow claims.
"We had problems with drafty windows, floors that were uneven, floors that were sagging, walls that were bucking,” Renfrow explained. “We had every kind of problem you can imagine in a new house.”
The problems just got worse from there, he said. After making repair after repair, the city offered to buy back the homes on Renfrow’s block. Some residents took the buy out, but Renfrow and 23 families opted to stay. The now city-owned homes have been boarded up and abandoned since 2000, dropping property values for residents who still call Osage Avenue home.
Renfrow believes the city is leaving the neighboring houses vacant and neglected in order to force residents out and gentrify the neighborhood -- rebuilding to try and accommodate the middle class and the affluent.
For Renfrow, whose family has lived on the block for more than half a century, he’s not looking to relocate. He's looking for relief: “We want them to tear these houses down…and rebuild for us so we can try to heal.”
But according to Council Woman Jannie Blackwell, who represents their district, this is not the case.
“I don’t believe that the former mayor or this mayor have gentrification as their main focus,” Blackwell told investigative reporter Harry Hairston.
A spokesperson for the Mayor says they have been actively trying to market the properties "as is" to a number of developers. They add that it's a difficult market right now and that a number of developers have been scared off by legal action that's been going on with the neighbors. The representative from the city also says that they've offered a fair settlement to the residents that would give them close to $200,000 and let them still live in their homes.
"Everyone wants the same here - a vibrant block that revives the neighborhood while staying true to original community. The Administration is working in close coordination with Councilwoman Blackwell to do everything possible to market this development opportunity. Unfortunately, during this economic downturn the opportunity for such development is greatly reduced."
This block has had to heal many wounds in the past. Renfrow’s struggle with City Hall is just the latest in a history of hassles for the residents of this notorious block.
Problems for these people began when MOVE, a radical group founded in the early 1970s by John Africa, moved in. The group, which advocated a “back-to-nature” way of life, relocated to Osage Avenue after a yearlong standoff with police in Powelton Village that ended when several MOVE members shot and killed police officer James J. Ramp in 1978.
MOVE then brought the mayhem to Osage Avenue -- broadcasting anti-government rants over loud speakers, building a bunker of the roof of their row home and barricading themselves in.
On the morning of May 13, 1985, authorities say they arrived at the MOVE home to serve arrest warrants on four members when they were met with gunfire. It was after a 90-minute gun battle that police officers dropped a bomb aimed at the MOVE house, which set 61 row homes on fire and killed 11 people, including 5 children.