Every time it gets cold out, Natasha Ocasio's right ankle aches — a reminder of the surgery she required last year after she stepped on the edge of a 3-foot-wide pothole outside her home, rolled her ankle to the side, and screamed in shock.
Since then, she often saw other reminders: a 5-inch scar that runs down her ankle, and the offending pothole, which hadn't been filled.
"Every time I come on the block," said Ocasio, 25, who routinely visits her mother on the street, "I replay it in my head."
Finally, the asphalt crater across from where Ocasio had lived on the 3300 block of Mutter Street in North Philadelphia was among five that were tended to Tuesday by the Streets Department. But that's only after neighbors pooled $536 three days earlier to buy 65 bags of cement at Home Depot to fill more than a dozen other potholes on the street themselves.
And it was only after one fed-up resident's video outlining a lengthy ordeal and showing the DIY solution was shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook.
Neighbors said the holes have been there since 2012 but got worse this past winter when temperature swings created a breeding ground for cracks, crannies, and craters. Residents think the potholes would have been fixed if their tiny block were a main road. Or maybe, they say, the Council offices, state representatives, and city officials they reached out to would have pushed harder for a fix if the problem were somewhere other than in Fairhill, a largely Hispanic neighborhood in North Philadelphia that's among the city's poorest.
"Regardless that we're in the Badlands," said Gladys Martinez, who has lived on the block for 25 years, "I just think that we need a little TLC out here. The people here just want to do better by the block."
Martinez said she first called the city about the issue in March, after she became concerned about the safety of children playing near the holes. Block captain Faustino Rivera added through his son, Tony, who translated from Spanish: "It's been four years of this, just trying to get someone to help."
In the end, the delayed repairs seem to have less to do with where the block is (though some requests for service were responded to more slowly in North Philadelphia than other city neighborhoods, an analysis found this year) and more to do with a tangled bureaucracy of two agencies, both of which say they either weren't aware of the potholes or didn't think it was their job to fix them.
In 2012, Philadelphia Gas Works was on the block upgrading the gas mains as part of a citywide effort, said Barry O'Sullivan, a PGW spokesperson. He said at the time, the utility opened up the street and installed a new main, after which it repaved the road in accordance with codes that require utilities to return streets to their original condition or better. For five years, PGW maintains responsibility for addressing and remedying issues that arise as a result of its work, he said. After that, responsibility shifts back to the city.
By 2014, the street began to open up, neighbors said, prompting complaints to the Streets Department, as well as State Rep. Angel Cruz and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, according to Rivera. Neither Cruz nor Quiñones-Sánchez responded to requests for comment.
But O'Sullivan said PGW hadn't heard about the potholes until this week, when a 6ABC reporter contacted it about the neighborhood's complaints. By that point, it was past the five-year mark.
Streets Department spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton said it didn't have any "open requests" for work, though records show four 311 complaints were filed this year related to the conditions of the street. She added that the city "appreciates the residents' frustration."
"The residents shouldn't have to live with their street, especially this long, in those conditions," she said. "It's unsafe for motorists and pedestrians crossing the street. Of course we want to put the street back in a state of good repair."
So on Tuesday, Streets Department workers filled five potholes on the street but left alone the work the neighbors had done themselves.
By Thursday, the neighbors' filled holes, tan and dirty, were intact.