North Philly street celebrates free bullet hole repairs — and braces for gentrification

For Kenneth Foreman and his wife, Tuesday was a day of rejoicing.

The holes left by 14 bullets that tore through their house during the nearly 8-hour police standoff in North Philly — which saw six officers shot but no one killed — were being patched up for free. Finally, their home would no longer serve as an unwanted reminder of the terror and trauma he felt after being trapped inside while more than 100 rounds were fired from directly across the street.

“It’s joy and happiness and peace,” Foreman told Billy Penn.

“I have some brand new windows, and when I came home from work today? Oh, I just can’t describe the feeling that I felt,” Mrs. Foreman said. “It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. I love it. I’m hype!”

The gratis repairs came courtesy of the painters, glaziers and drywall finishers union, District Council 21, whom Mayor Kenney called on to donate repairs.

Because city personnel were involved in the gunfight, property owners who sustained damage were initially directed to file a claim with the city’s Office of Risk Management. The city would only pay for repairs if ORM found it acted recklessly and should be held liable, they were told.

Instead of letting that process play out, the mayor’s administration brokered a first-of-its-kind deal with the building trades, wherein workers would volunteer time and manpower to repair homes damaged by gun violence.

nicetownhouses-laylajones-03

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

Philadelphia’s unfortunate abundance of gun violence means bullet damage to homes isn’t uncommon.

Just one month after the Nicetown standoff, a mother and her baby were injured when a shot tore through their door in Strawberry Mansion from nearly two blocks away. When asked, Mayor Kenney said the administration had not yet looked into launching an initiative that would subsidize repairs for all property damaged by Philly’s ongoing crisis.

“At this point I don’t know of any particular program that’s existing,” the mayor told Billy Penn. “But we can look at it.”

On the 3700 block of N. 15th Street, there were windows to be replaced and doors to be repaired. Workers even repainted facade finishings that hadn’t been directly affected by the mid-summer shootout.

Traffic on the busy street moved especially slowly as workers toiled on Tuesday, eliciting some frustrated honks. With windows rolled down, passers-by wanted to know: What’s going on here?

It was almost as if no one who rode through the neighborhood that day realized where they were; as if everyone had forgotten that less than three months ago, this quiet, quaint block garnered international attention for all the wrong reasons.

The boarded up and painted over house across the street from Foreman’s home had become inconspicuous. But it was inside there that Maurice Hill exchanged gunfire with police who had come to the block to serve a warrant. The whole city watched events unfold, but almost no one watched as closely as Mr. Foreman.

nicetownhouses-laylajones-04

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

Foreman was walking down the street coming home from work on Aug. 14 as the shootout began. He initially stood on his porch to take pictures, until officers yelled at him to get inside.

“When I get inside, shots started to come through the window,” Foreman recalled. “It was terrible … When this thing happened, it’s like I was in hell.

“Like I’m in hell, ’cause I never seen something like this before. I never hear so much gunfire before.”

Next door to the Foreman home, Pamela Gettings was lying in bed in her ground floor apartment when she heard shots and went to the window to take a peek. Gettings’ front-facing unit was hit by shrapnel and suffered a shattered front window.

“I found it,” Gettings said of the bullet scraps that damaged her property. “It was, like, 101 on the card where they were finding pieces of the bullets and stuff.”

It remains unclear how a warrant delivery led to such a dramatic unfolding of events. Acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter said Tuesday the investigation is ongoing. Neighbors speculate quietly that the cops may have botched the warrant process, and articulate publicly that police should have taken steps to better protect residents.

“I think in some ways the city feels kind of responsible,” said block captain Cynthia Muse.

“Because it happened during the day. In the middle of the afternoon, people getting off work, you have a daycare full of kids. The way it all went down, it should’ve been processed a little better.”

nicetownhouses-laylajones-05

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

Despite unanswered questions that remain, neighbors are generally impressed by the city’s response and the more consistent police presence in the weeks and months since the standoff. Muse worked closely with the police and elected officials to pull off a well-attended community day block party just over a month after the incident.

“The PAL center came [and said] listen, let’s try to get these kids happy again,” Muse said.

Neighbors said that event helped bring people out of their houses and restore normalcy to the close-knit community.

“When they had that Philly day here and had the food out and the dancing and all, I think after that everybody started coming out again,” homeowner Gettings said.

What residents want to see in the neighborhood going forward varies. Tucked neatly behind the intersection of Broad Street and Erie Avenue, the community is on the edge of what could be a significant gentrification effort. The nearby Beury Building is being redeveloped with plans for a potential hotel, apartments and restaurants.

Gentrification could be a good thing, some neighbors say. Others have more simple hopes for their community.

“We just get back together and start living like before,” Mr. Foreman said. “Because the neighbors here, we are one, from top to bottom.”

Muse has been campaigning to bring a police athletic league to the neighborhood which she said currently has no recreation center or public space for the many children who live and go to school there. Ultimately, she said things in the usually safe, loving neighborhood are going back to the way they were before.

“Everybody is okay because no one got hurt,” Muse said. “We’re very happy and we’re very pleased and they’re healing.”