The 1900 block of N. 19th St. is one of the more desolate in North Philadelphia, with maybe half a dozen buildings and a staggering amount of vacant land. By our count, there are 34 vacant lots on this block, and that doesn’t even count the empty lots at the southwest corner of 19th & Norris which have Norris Street addresses. So it was a little jarring the other day, when we noticed a pair of new duplexes under construction on the west side of this block.
Developers purchased 1948 and 1950 N. 19th St. last summer, paying $157K for the sizable parcels. By the beginning of this year, they got variances to build duplexes on the lots, which are zoned for single-family use. Those duplexes are now under construction, and despite the condition of the rest of the block, the project makes all kinds of sense. Temple University is located just a few blocks away to the east, and as we’ve covered relentlessly over the last several years, student housing construction has been a booming business in this area, stretching to blocks much further from campus than this one.
So what gives? One would think, with so much student housing development in this area, that these properties would be in very high demand and that they wouldn’t been sitting empty. That would indeed be a good theory, if market forces were running the show on this block. Instead, the hand of local government rules the day on this block, with City agencies owning the vast majority of the vacant lots on the block. If we’re looking at the glass half full, the City has been much more aggressive in the last few years when it comes to selling off land, so it’s quite possible that many of these parcels will soon change hands and get developed. On the other hand, the City still owns tens of thousands of lots, so these could continue to sit for years and years. Fortunately, at least a few of the empty lots on the block are owned privately, so it’s likelier than not that we’ll see at least some more infill, whether the City sells quickly or not.