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Should the city pay returning citizens to rehab abandoned buildings in Kensington?

This year, the City of Philadelphia ended with a surplus of over $769 million.

Jondhi Harrell, the director of The Center for Returning Citizens, believes that at least $100 million of the surplus should be dedicated to identifying abandoned buildings, rehabbing the ones that can be repaired, and turning them into low- or no-cost homes that residents desperately need.

“We have to find a way for City Council, for the city, and for the mayor to focus on how can we take some of this [abandoned] housing and turn it into housing for folks who really need it,” Harrell said.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, returning citizens are 10 times as likely to experience homelessness than the general public. Discrimination from private landlords and lack of affordable housing make is especially difficult for this population to secure stable housing.

“In Kensington, and also across [Philadelphia], the city is not utilizing efficiently the experience and the work and the ideas of formerly incarcerated people and formerly addicted people,” said Harrell.

Harrell said that a program like this could bring together community members for the better. He suggested that labor unions and minority construction companies could work with formerly incarcerated individuals and other at-risk populations to rehab abandoned homes. A program like this could provide economic opportunities for these individuals outside of black markets while also creating housing for people in need.

If the city took Harrell’s suggestion, it would not be alone. A program in Indiana called Constructing Our Future is already working toward similar goals.

The non-profit organization was conceived and developed by a group of incarcerated women at Indiana Women’s Prison. The program aims to support women re-entering society after release by guiding them in rehabbing abandoned homes that they can one day own. By teaching participants labor skills and providing them with the stability of a home, the program hopes to end cycles of incarceration and reduce blight.

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Editors: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Kristine Aponte