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Osun Village comes to seniors' rescue

A South of South development featuring housing units and office and commercial space opened Monday.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Dec. 16, 2010

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Left to right, Mayor Michael Nutter, Lois Fernandez and Council President Anna Verna opened Osun Villange with a trusty pair of scissors

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Monday’s frigid morning temperatures could not alter the joy on the faces of those who gathered for the public opening of Osun (pronounced Oh-shoon) Village, 2308-14 Grays Ferry Ave. At 23,000 square feet, the four-story mixed-use development will include 16 one-bedroom rental apartments for senior citizens, ground floor commercial space and program offices for African-inspired cultural programs and a yearly June festival. About 100 attendees battled a typical late-autumn chill to honor one woman’s commitment and her community’s rejuvenation.

Lois Fernandez earned praise from every speaker for her 13-year role as a courageous crusader for improved senior housing options. Poised to occupy one of the units, she described the facility as “the home of love for our seniors.”

“I dedicate this to all of my ancestors,” Fernandez, who in 1975 founded the Odunde Festival, a celebration of African culture and an homage to the Yoruba tradition in Nigeria, said.

A practitioner of the West African-based Ifa religion, she chose the facility’s name to honor Osun, an undergoddess, or Orisha, who reigns over love and beauty.

“Those two aspects epitomize why we are all here today, to express our love for one another and the beauty of this community,” she said.

Various sources provided the funds for the nearly $5-million building, which comprises four lots. The National Equity Fund supplied $2.4 million, the City gave $1.5 million through its Community Development Block Grant funds, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency offered $750,000 through President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the City’s Department of Commerce pitched in $220,000 for the commercial space and the Economic Development Initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development endowed $79,000. Additional aid came from TD Bank.

“I am thankful to see this project completed,” Kenneth Gamble, whose Universal Companies, 800 S. 15th St., partnered with Fernandez, said.

Since he founded Universal in ’93, Gamble, a music pioneer who began Philadelphia International Records with Leon Huff in ’71, has aimed to reverse the ills of urban decline. A notable element of that decline is poor urban housing. He expressed hopes that Osun Village would inspire dedication similar to Fernandez’s from other community members.

City Council President Anna Verna, one of Fernandez’s dearest allies, applauded Gamble and Rahim Islam, Universal’s president and CEO, for their dedication before commending the activist.

“This is a long, long, long awaited project,” Verna said. “It would never have become a reality without the persistence of Lois Fernandez. I see this building as a location for seniors to maximize their ability to live safe, independent lives.”

They will live those lives in a building with an in-unit emergency call system, keyless entry for easy access, a community room, a laundry facility and a rear patio. Bingo, knitting, line dancing and morning stretching will busy them immediately, with pottery to join the activities list soon. Most residents moved in yesterday, having completed an application process. To be eligible for a unit, applicants must be at least 62 and have an income at or below 50 percent of the local median income, which is $27,450 for a single person household.

Four units remain available and will work on a sliding rent scale like the occupied spaces. According to Tamelia Hinson of Universal Community Homes, residents will pay between $275 and $645 for the rooms, which include a refrigerator, oven, stove, dining table, bathroom and closets.

One unit will be accessible for someone with physical disabilities, and another will accommodate someone with hearing and vision impairments.

The opening ceremony capped an often frustrating decade-plus of community backlash and difficulty finding an equity investor. A 2006 Review article addressed concerns from locals that the building would be too large, as original plans called for a six-story location, and would interfere with the completion of other Universal projects.

In its 17 years of existence, Universal has constructed about 1,000 residential units; provided case management, financial, mortgage and foreclosure counseling to numerous families; and has taken on managing Edwin W. Stanton School, 1700 Christian St.; Edwin Vare Middle School, 2100 S. 24th St.; and Universal Institute Charter School, 801 S. 15th St. None of its many endeavors, however, prevented Monday’s celebration.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” Mayor Michael Nutter said, quoting orator Frederick Douglass. “You have certainly struggled,” he added while nodding in the direction of the Osun team, which included Fernandez’s daughter, Bumi Fernandez, who is executive director of ODUNDE Inc.

Nutter spoke of South of South as a great neighborhood and cited the complex and the Nov. 6 reopening of the South Street Bridge as keys to making the area even more dynamic.

The first-term Democrat then launched into two of his favorite topics, jobs and seniors.

“This facility employed more than 115 construction workers to bring it to fruition and has created five permanent onsite jobs.”

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1. jbs61jr@juno.com said... on Mar 12, 2011 at 09:36PM

“Very Interesting...”

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2. Deborah Crocker said... on Mar 23, 2011 at 03:09PM

“I need a building for daycare”

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