Temple bets on home buyers

The university has a $500,000 program to help its workers become homeowners in surrounding neighborhoods.

With growth and development surging in North Philadelphia, Temple University president Ann Weaver Hart wants university employees to play a stronger role in the residential communities surrounding the university.

To achieve that, Hart will announce today a $500,000 program to encourage workers at the university to become homeowners in the neighborhoods around the main campus in North Philadelphia and the health sciences campus in the city's Tioga section.

Hart, who was appointed president of the university in July 2006 after four years as president of the University of New Hampshire, said she was inspired by Mayor Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) to increase the university's involvement in the surrounding community.

"I began to think about how [NTI] might fit into my hope that Temple would become increasingly integrated with its neighborhood," Hart said in an interview at the university last week.

Under Temple's Employee Home Ownership Program, the university will provide $4,000 to $5,000 in forgivable loans toward the purchase of single-family dwellings in the eight zip codes surrounding the main and health science campuses. Each home must be used as the buyer's primary residence for at least four years.

Those in the program will be eligible for the city's Home-Buy-Now program, which will match the university's contribution for buyers using approved mortgage lenders. The program was developed with the support of Councilman Darrell Clarke.

Citing the arrival of the Avenue North development, which features a movie theater, retail shops and student housing at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, and substantial new housing throughout the community, Hart said campus and the community "are really in an exciting time of growth."

"We have about $500 million worth of new buildings going up on campus that we are responsible for," Hart said. "We have private partners that have invested about $200 million into the surrounding neighborhood. New shops, a movie theater, new restaurants, and great places for our students to live."

Hart said about 500 Temple employees live in the eight zip codes around the two campuses - 19121, 19122, 19123, 19125, 19130, 19132, 19133 and 19140. She said about half of those workers were renters.

The program "provides an immediate opportunity for some of our employees to have a chance to buy," Hart said. "And it provides us with an opportunity to just be part of the surrounding neighborhood.

Hart said the program would also provide counseling to help employees improve their credit ratings and prepare for becoming homeowners.

She said that she did not know how many employees would take advantage of the program, but that she would be pleased if 250 workers participated.

"I hope this sends a message that we want to be part of the neighborhood," Hart said.

She added that in the last 15 months, the university had given more than $500,000 in cash contributions and in-kind gifts and services to the surrounding neighborhood.

The University of Pennsylvania has had success with similar programs to encourage employee home ownership in its surrounding community since the mid-1990s, a university spokesman said.

Clarke hailed the partnership with Temple.

"I think it gives people in the community the opportunity and financial incentive to own homes in North Philadelphia," the councilman said. "Sometimes the first part of the investment is the most difficult part."

However, State Sen. Shirley Kitchen said she had questions about the program because the university did not provide enough information.

"I have concerns because we have very little information on the program. We asked that they hold off on the program until they talked to the community," Kitchen said, adding that community meetings should be held on the matter.

"We want the community informed and we want details in writing," she said.


Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.