Ori Feibush remembers everything about the night an arsonist destroyed 11 townhouses he’d been developing in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood. He was awakened by a neighbor banging on his door. He sprinted about two blocks from his home to the site, but firefighters wouldn’t let him near the blaze. “I was unfortunately standing as a bystander,” he said, “with all of my neighbors watching a project that I had worked on for half a decade burn to the ground.”
Mr. Feibush, 36, says he personally lost more than $1 million in the May 2017 fire, and his investors also took a substantial loss. Later that year, he says, someone unsuccessfully tried to set fire to another of his construction projects, in Fishtown. No one has been arrested or charged for either crime, but Mr. Feibush is convinced that local anarchists who consider themselves antifascist, or “antifa,” are to blame.
Point Breeze is predominantly black, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that between 2005 and 2009 roughly 1 in 3 residents lived in poverty. Mr. Feibush said the district had “seen 60 years of disinvestment, 60 years of drugs and crime,” but 12 years ago he decided to “take a chance on a neighborhood that a lot of developers didn’t want to take a chance on.” Mr. Feibush’s critics say he took advantage of the area’s cheap property and bad reputation, and that his market-rate developments drive up prices and displace longtime residents.
In the month before the first arson attack, posters went up in the neighborhood, including one urging locals to “smash back” against developers who are “displacing the black and brown people.” The posters singled out OCF Realty, Mr. Feibush’s company, and called for “direct action.”
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