Philadelphia families fight attempt to move them

City aims to empty block where bombing occurred

September 10, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - Every morning after breakfast, Thomas Mapp takes a walk through the streets of West Philadelphia. Sometimes his ambling lasts an hour, sometimes two. It depends on whom he sees, what they have to say, how far his 68-year-old legs will take him.

"I know everybody around here. It's like family. I love that walk," said Mapp, a retired truck driver.

That is why Mapp is turning his back on an offer that Mayor John Street and others say he should take: $150,000 to walk away from his home on the long-troubled 6200 block of Osage Ave.

Street says the money is a fair way of closing the book on one of the city's most difficult chapters, the 1985 MOVE bombing that destroyed 61 homes and left 11 people dead. One of the homes lost was Mapp's. Lost, too, was the family dog, Twinkle, and decades of family photos.

The city paid a contractor to rebuild the homes, but the work was done poorly. Construction and repairs have cost more than $16 million. New problems could cost $13 million more to resolve, and that precipitated Street's offer.

A half-dozen homeowners who have taken the city offer are gone. The brick and cedar-sided rowhouses are being boarded with plywood as soon as the residents leave. Thirty families are expected to follow soon.

More than two dozen others are fighting what they call an eviction. They have been told by the city that they face the loss of their homes by eminent domain if they decline to go.

Mapp and his 59-year-old wife, Betty, 38-year residents of Osage Avenue, are among the fighters. They say that they have lost too much and that no amount of money is enough for them to give up what little of the past they have left.

The couple raised three children on the block and want to spend their old age there.

"The city made all these mistakes, and now they want to throw us out?" Thomas Mapp asks. "This is my home."

"The mayor really thinks $150,000 is going to make us happy," Betty Mapp says. "We were already happy. We just weren't satisfied."

In June, tired of the cost of repairs, Street offered residents $70,000 to leave or to stay and release the city from any further responsibility for repairs. The residents balked.

In July, Street declared the homes "imminently dangerous" because of construction flaws in gas heating systems that could lead to carbon monoxide leaks.

Street increased the offer to $150,000 but made it clear that residents had to leave this fall.

The tension worsened last month after Philadelphia Gas Works inspectors found a hazardous condition involving the furnace at the rebuilt MOVE house.

The city then got a court order to shut off the furnaces in all 61 homes, which residents called a ploy to scare them into leaving.

The Mapps and at least 25 other homeowners joined in a lawsuit to fight the city's plans.

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