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After 650 applicants, Orinoka Civic House still has affordable units to rent

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The mixed-income housing development is unexpectedly still looking for tenants

More than a dozen affordable units are still available at the Orinoka Civic House.
Photos courtesy of NKCDC

When the Orinoka Civic House in Kensington received more than 650 applicants for its 51 affordable rentals earlier this year, two things were clear: 1) There was a great need for affordable housing in Philly and 2) there would be no trouble filling these rentals.

But that was in March. Today, more than a dozen units are still up for grabs at the old factory-turned-mixed-income housing development at 2771-2777 Ruth Street.

So what happened?

“It was somewhat unexpected,” says Felix Torres-Colon, executive director of New Kensington CDC (NKCDC). “The units for people at 20 percent of the area’s median income (AMI) went right away, but the units for people at around 60 percent have been going slightly slower.”

A rendering of a converted warehouse. Rendering by Jibe Design

The Orinoka Civic House is a low-income housing tax credit project, which means that potential tenants’ incomes have to match or be able to carry particular rents. In Orinoka’s case, NKCDC has struggled to find renters who meet the 50 to 60 percent income level.

So while there’s a 100-person waiting list the 20 percent AMI units, there are still more than a dozen units available for the 50 percent and 60 percent income levels. There are 26 units and 19 units reserved for the 50 and 60 percent income brackets, respectively.

Says Torres-Colon, “You have this very narrow window where you have to have enough money to afford the unit, but you can’t have too much. And it’s often very difficult to get someone right there in the middle.”

But that’s just one of the potential explanations. The executive director says there are also ongoing misconceptions about what people think when they hear the words “affordable housing.”

“They often think you have to be homeless,” says Torres-Colon. “There’s a variety of myths that people have about affordable housing that prevents them from applying. They just say, ‘I make too much money or I don’t make enough.’”

Currently, a one-bedroom apartment at Orinoka that rents for $564 a month requires an annual income of at least $16,920. A two-bedroom apartment that rents for $622 requires an income of at least $18,660 annually.

The apartments have skyline views back toward Center City.

The current construction may have kept people from applying, too. Although many tenants have already moved into the Orinoka Civic House, the community area, commercial space, and NKCDC’s own offices are still under construction. Torres-Colon says the project should finish up by late fall.

But the apartments themselves are move-in ready. And, he says, the apartments also bucks stereotypes of low-income housing: The units feature finishes like original exposed brick coupled with stainless steel appliances and modern cabinetry. There also also expansive views back toward Center City.

Says Torres-Colon, “I think there are a lot of worse places you could live.”