Student Housing is Under Construction at 17th & Venango

We’ve made it a habit to complain that the City owns a ton of vacant land but doesn’t generally show much interest in selling it off. In our defense, this is a real problem, with City agencies collectively representing the largest vacant land ownership group in Philadelphia. These numbers are perhaps a little old but as of a couple years ago, City agencies owned approximately ten thousand vacant lots. Holy crap, that’s a lot of lots.

To be fair, the City sells off some land every single month, though now as nearly as much as we’d prefer. But the process by which the City has sold land has historically been very problematic. Questionable developers have been able to buy City lots over the years, often for below market prices, and occasionally due to questionable political connections. The Land Bank was supposed to end all of that and we do believe we’re heading in the right direction. Maybe you’ve noticed, we’ve complained much less about this subject of late.

A reader recently tipped us off about some new construction on the northeast corner of 17th & Venango, on a property which was owned by the City until the middle of last year. In 2015, the Redevelopment Authority posted three large properties in this area as available for sale at a price of $216K. Initially, only one developer responded to the listed, offering half the asking price. The PRA tried again a few months later, and LaCorte Properties was the only bidder, offering the full asking price. What do you know, when you list something for sale, someone might just buy it. The first parcel settled last year, and now this developer is building a row of nine triplexes and a mixed-use building at the corner. Thus far, five of the buildings have appeared, and we’re pretty sure they were a modular build. Check ’em out.

NE corner
Looking east toward Temple Hospital
Additional units in the queue

Needless to say, these new buildings will stand out from the homes across the street. This will be true both from an architectural standpoint and in terms of the occupants. The properties on the south side of the street are single family homes, many of which have been owned by the same people since the homes were constructed in the 1980s. The triplexes on the north side of the street will target renters, specifically students and young professionals that work at Temple Hospital. This would seem to make sense, since the hospital is just a few blocks to the east. On the other hand, there’s very little in terms of neighborhood amenities and given the desired $1,200/mo rental rates for the units, we can think of plenty of other parts of town with similar rents that have a lot more going on.

Very different architecture on the south side of the block

Once the developers finish the five buildings currently under construction, they’ll get started on five more on the vacant land next door. As we said, they bought two other large parcels from the City, and have plans to build twenty more triplexes on these parcels as future phases in this development. Collectively, all the new buildings will certainly represent a dramatic change for this area.

Vacant lot on the block, owned by the same developer

We wouldn’t have predicted so much demand for new housing in this area, though perhaps the developers are intentionally taking the construction slowly so the don’t flood the market all at once. And who knows, there’s a world in which this area could start to see some additional interest from developers in the coming years. Remember, we told you a few months ago about a plan to convert a bank at 17th & Tioga into an apartment building, so the new construction up the street isn’t happening on a development island. We’re not saying that Nicetown/Tioga is going to be the next Francisville or anything like that, but two significant projects in such close proximity could portend additional development moving forward.