Like Living In A Cemetary
'Like living in a cemetery'
Why some Osage Avenue residents refuse to leave
By BARBARA LAKER
Philadelphia Daily News
THE HOLDOUTS live on a block of plywood and padlocks, so eerie it looks like a street ravaged by war.
Twenty five years ago, it was.
The aging neighbors of Osage Avenue have treated each other like family since May 13, 1985, when the city dropped a bomb on the house at 6221, home of the radical group MOVE, killing 11 people inside and igniting a fire that leveled their block.
The city quickly rebuilt their homes, but botched the job, leaving residents with a litany of problems including massive water leaks, blocked drainage pipes, missing support beams and falling bricks.
Bonded by tragedy, the neighbors celebrate birthdays and holidays, and keep copies of each other's keys.
They saw some neighbors pack up and leave, then doors and windows get shuttered. A few vacant houses are littered with graffiti. Shredded insulation blows in the breeze. But the diehards stay, determined to fight what some call "the second bombing."
Facing millions of dollars in repair work on the rebuilt homes, the city wanted to buy the residents out and write the final chapter of MOVE. Over the years, some agreed to accept buyouts, mostly ranging from $75,000 to $150,000.
But 28 families - 25 on Osage Avenue and three on Pine Street - remain, fierce, steadfast and strong. Most are older than 60.
"It's almost like living in a cemetery," said Lucretia Wilson, 62, who lives next to the vacant rebuilt MOVE house that until a few years ago had round-the-clock police guard.
"I don't mean like it's haunted with ghosts," Wilson said. "It's like we're waiting to die. One by one, we're dying. And when we're all dead, that's when it will be over."
Block captain Gerald Wayne Renfrow, 64, said that the city has boarded up home after home to create blight and force the diehards out.
"It's so bad now," Renfrow said. "People think it's a ghost town so they come here to have sex in cars and deal drugs."
The oldest woman on the block, Elizabeth "Gerri" Bostic, moved to Osage Avenue in 1983 from New York with her husband, Kermit, who died June 26, 2007, at age 95.
"I want to live here until I die," said Bostic, an 89-year-old wisp of a woman. "At my age, where am I going to go?"
Seeing the boarded houses doesn't bother her much. "I saw all the plywood before I lost my sight," she said. "Now I can't see much.
"It used to be a street of people. Now so many people are gone."
Like Mattie Coles, the first African-American to move to the block 62 years ago.
"This old lady ain't going nowhere," Coles told a Daily News reporter in September 2000. "They're going to have to carry me out. And when they carry me out, they'll have to bring a coffin up this street and lay me in it. That's the only way I'll leave."
Coles did die at home on the block she loved - on April 28, 2003.
Thomas Mapp, 78, accepted a settlement but stayed on Osage with his 60-year-old wife, Betty, and believes that the city didn't give them their due.
"I like it here," he said. "I don't want to leave. But we're still waiting for the city to do right by us. I don't think the fight will ever be over."
They huddled around the dining-room table making plans for a party to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary May 14.
Everyone on the block will be invited.
For one day, they will put the fight on hold.
Eight families, including block captain Renfrow, have not accepted a buyout. "We're still fighting City Hall," Renfrow said.
"It was a second bombing," he said. "We expected the city to rebuild the houses the right way and we'd be able to heal. But we're 25 years and counting and we have yet to have one second of healing."
Yet, they call it home.
"This is their family," said Kim Foskey Jackson, whose mother, Carrie Foskey, 73, lives on the block.
"This has been it for 50, 60 years," she said. "You don't leave your family just because your house burned."