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Workforce housing debuts in East Poplar, more planned for Francisville

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The 13 homes already have buyers, 32 more on the way

Thirteen $229K homes have debuted in East Poplar, the first of the city’s workforce housing initiative.
Rendering by KDO Architecture

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, the city of Philadelphia saw the initial fruits of its workforce housing initiative delivered.

Thirteen homes in East Poplar were unveiled at the ceremony, all pre-sold and built at an extremely rapid clip of six months after breaking ground in November 2016. Another 32 homes in nearby Francisville are on the way.

It’s all part of City Council president Darrell Clarke’s pet project that was first announced back in 2014. His workforce housing initiative was created in partnership with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to turn the Philly’s many city-owned vacant lots into housing for the workforce.

To be clear, workforce housing isn’t the same as affordable housing. The former is meant for local residents who earn up to 120 percent of the area median income.

As developer Mo Rushdy describes it, “It’s geared toward Philadelphians [...] working in the city who are missing the boat on the new construction that’s going up everywhere because everything is in the upper $300,000’s and $400,000’s.” He continues, “They’re simply caught in the middle where they can’t afford to buy a new house and also don’t qualify for some sort of housing assistance program.”

Rushdy and his partner Lawrence McKnight of BMK Properties, a subsidiary of River Wards Group, were awarded the PRA’s request for proposals (RFP) to build 13 townhomes located along the 900 and 1000 blocks of N. Marshall Street in East Poplar.

“We didn’t try to cheapen house to increase the mortgage,” Rushdy told Curbed Philly, ahead of the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We did what we’ve done for our past million-dollar homes: Hardwood floors throughout, granite counter tops, and stainless steel appliances.”

Says Rushdy, “The city liked what we offering and that’s how we got awarded the project.”

The developers worked with KJO Architecture to design a mix of 2- to 3-story townhomes clocking in between 1,100 and 1,200 square feet, all with private backyards. No parking was included; Rushdy said that’s due to the homes’ proximity to public transportation and the fact that the homes were not built as one cohesive development.

Every home was priced at $229,999, and all 13 buyers went through a rigorous application process with the PRA prior to finalizing sales.

This won’t be the last of workforce housing Philly sees coming to its rapidly developing neighborhoods. Similar plans are in store for the 32-home Francisville project, says Rushdy, who was also awarded the RFP. Construction is expected to begin in the fall if zoning is approved.

The PRA recently issued another RFP for a 15-parcel workforce housing development in West Poplar. This time, the RFP includes a credit enhancement for developers, which will provide a 25 percent guarantee to the financial institution that issues the construction loans.

That may incentivize more developers to take on these kind of projects, which can often be complicated or limited given the budget constraints, says Rushdy. But, he adds, “We’re on the way of seeing a lot of these pop up.”