For years, we’ve groused that the Philadelphia Housing Authority owns too much property. To be clear, PHA fills a crucial need in our fair city, providing affordable housing for thousands of people through a combination of housing developments, scattered site housing, and administration of various government programs to reduce rent obligations in non-PHA homes. Nevertheless, PHA has found itself with a surplus of scattered site properties that either need total renovation or are currently sitting vacant, and PHA simply doesn’t have the bucks to bring all those properties online in any sort of timely fashion.
To their credit, over the last several years we’ve seen PHA proactively start selling off a sizable chunk of their extra properties, typically to market rate developers that are willing to pay top dollar. Unfortunately, that generally means that these properties fall out of the affordable category. But there are some exceptions. We’ve discovered a pair of properties in West Poplar which were owned by PHA for decades and haven’t been in productive use for a long time, which are now in the midst of redevelopment. And these will remain affordable.
624 N. 12th St. was a vacant home, going back over a decade. The first floor windows were boarded up, but the windows on the upper floors were open to the elements. We can only imagine what this building looked like inside, after years of neglect. We should mention, this property is rather unique because it extends 190 feet, running all the way from 12th Street to Camac Street. This means that any redevelopment could include a second building with frontage on Camac- not the prettiest block in town, but still perfectly livable.
A couple years back, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation acquired this property, along with a vacant lot at 632 N. 12th St., with a plan to build affordable multi-family buildings. That is exactly what’s happened thus far, with the renovation of the home at 624 N. 12th St. into a 6-unit building, the construction of a triplex at 632 N. 12th St., and the ongoing construction of a quadplex on Camac Street. Per PCDC, the units are fairly affordable, with 1 bedroom units starting at $680, 2 bedroom units at $890, and 3 bedroom units at $1,500. All of these rents would meet the affordability thresholds for people earning less than 60% AMI.
As we’ve seen over the last decade, this neighborhood has experienced a dramatic increase in new construction and it’s certain that rents have gone up dramatically over time. This project works for us on many levels, not only because the newly developed units are being offered at below market rental rates. Seeing a pair of PHA properties turn over after years of vacancy certainly warms our heart, as does the density, which increases the number of units available at lower rents while increasing foot traffic in a largely residential neighborhood. Seems like a huge win, and we wonder whether we’ll see more projects like this, whether from PCDC or from other affordable housing developers.