We’ve documented, over the last several years, countless projects in East Kensington that have truly changed the face of a neighborhood previously suffering from years of disinvestment. As time has passed, projects have pushed further and further into the neighborhood, starting on Amber Street, moving along to Coral, and then up to Emerald and Jasper Streets. More recently, we’ve even seen several projects on the blocks between Jasper Street and Kensington Avenue. While the neighborhood to the south has improved by leaps and bounds, Kensington Avenue is still quite rough, with a deserved reputation as ground zero of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis (though more so on the other side of Lehigh). Nevertheless, developers are building projects and people are buying and renting homes/apartments just a few steps away.

The thing about development is, it tends to spread. We’ve seen the story time and again. Northern Liberties development begat Fishtown development. Graduate Hospital development begat Point Breeze development. And so on. Often, in these situations, there’s some kind of natural urban barrier that slows down the gentrification train, a la Front Street in the first example and Washington Avenue in the second example. In both cases though, the development eventually pushed through. We wonder if we might be seeing some very early stages of this phenomenon right now, on the other side of Kensington Avenue.

A reader recently directed our attention to 121 W. Cumberland St., a vacant lot with some zoning notices posted to its fence. This property has been sitting empty for quite some time, though there was a two story building at the corner of Howard & Cumberland until somewhat recently. Developers bought the building, along with the lots next door, for $225K at the end of last year, and as the zoning notices suggest, they’re looking to build something here. That project will be an eleven-unit apartment building which the developers are calling Cumberland Commons.

Current view
Project rendering

The developer is Locale, a company that we mentioned just a few weeks ago for planning a mixed-use building just off Aramingo Avenue. On their website, they indicate that Cumberland Commons will have leading energy efficiencies and that the units will be offered at “reasonable” rental rates. To our ears, that means that the units will be nice and will be offered at market rate prices, but the developers don’t believe they’ll be able to get very high prices, given the location.

That’s probably true in the immediate future, as Kensington Avenue will deter development into the West Kensington neighborhood and there’s still plenty of land to be developed in East Kensington. But as more projects come down the pike in East Kensington, land prices will continue to climb, as will home prices and rents. And more and more people will start thinking about moving just a block or two past Kensington Avenue, to save a few bucks. The thing is- the more people that are willing to make that move, the less money everyone will be saving as prices will begin to shoot up in the neighborhood. At least that’s how we’ve seen this story play out in other parts of town.