There’s a vacant lot at the intersection of E. Cambria Street and Trenton Avenue which doesn’t seem like the poster child for market rate development. This property sits on the fringe of Port Richmond, a neighborhood that seeing developer interest trickle over from Fishtown. But it’s also on the edge of Harrowgate, a neighborhood that’s been severely depressed for decades and has seen little in terms of development during the current cycle. Sure, there’s a park and playground just a block away. But if you go one more block, there’s a metal scrapping business which can’t be good for air quality in the immediate neighborhood. And beyond the metal scrapper, the elevated train tracks effectively isolate this area from booming East Kensington.
And yet… it seems that this parcel is on track for redevelopment, and we have to think it will be of the market rate variety. Developers bought 2200 E. Cambria St. earlier this year at sheriff’s sale, and after unsuccessfully trying to assign the purchase, they opted to take it through the zoning process with a plan to build four new homes. At a purchase price of only $42K, it’s possible that an afforable project could still be in the works, but we doubt it. Instead, we expect the owners to build four homes and sell them to the highest bidder (or rent them out), or sell the property to someone else with zoning in hand.
Just a few years ago, this property was even less desirable, as there was a huge vacant lot at 2101 E. Auburn St., right next door. That parcel was redeveloped in 2016 by Women’s Community Revitalization Project as a 36-unit affordable housing development called Grace Townhomes. The homes are rentals for the moment, with the plan to try to sell the units to as many residents as possible in the next 10-15 years.
We’d be lying if we said we liked the architecture of this project, but we have to imagine that the materials choices were made with value engineering in mind. And not for nothing, but the curb appeal of these homes isn’t nearly as important as the mission of the project, to increase affordable housing in Philadelphia. We have to think that the project proposed at 2200 E. Cambria St. would have been much less likely if there was a big empty lot across the street, instead of the Grace Townhomes. This might be one of those unusual cases where affordable housing actually spurs market rate development.