Kensington needs a comprehensive approach to real estate development, co-created with the community
Where we are
Kensington is suffering from poverty, systemic racism, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, gentrification, housing exploitation, and a lack of support for mental health issues. For years, efforts to address Kensington’s challenges have failed for reasons including:
- Efforts have been designed and implemented without community input
- Efforts have lacked sufficient expertise and resources to be effective
- Efforts have failed to understand the multi-dimensionality of the challenges, and failed to provide a comprehensive, “wrap-around” approach
- The number of properties that are vacant, underused, or blighted on Kensington Avenue—including many owned by speculative developers—make it an accommodating place for the drug trade and the violence that increasingly accompanies it.
What we need
What is needed is a comprehensive approach to real estate development, co-created with the community, that addresses the full complement of challenges. NKCDC and its partners and community stakeholders understand the complexity of Kensington’s situation, and have the experience, ability, and team to coordinate and provide comprehensive solutions.
We identify Health, Wellness and Healing as the guiding theme and “north star” of this work.
REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
An anchors model
In order to stabilize Kensington, NKCDC and its community partners need to control anchor spaces on Kensington Avenue, transform blighted and vacant properties, and use them to provide goods and services that are needed by both residents and those suffering from addiction and homelessness.
A key developer that owns multiple vacant or underused properties is willing to give NKCDC right of first refusal to purchase properties on Kensington Avenue between Lehigh and Allegheny. This is a unique, time-limited opportunity to control a significant portion of Kensington Avenue and provide space for multiple services and programs. Properties purchased to date include:
- 2964 Kensington Ave (vacant lot)
- 2968 Kensington Ave (vacant lot)
- 3000 Kensington Ave (3,573 sq. ft. former diner and apartments)
The new anchors will supplement public and community assets between Lehigh and Kensington Avenues:
- SEPTA’s Somerset and Allegheny El stops bookend the corridor
- Orinoka Civic House, a block from the Somerset El stop, contains 51 affordable rental units and NKCDC’s offices, as well as a new Kensington Empowerment Hub which will be providing services to neighborhood residents by mid-2022 .
- McPherson Square is a historic park and library that has been identified for investment through the city’s Rebuild program. The square should be an important site for youth programs, assistance for job seekers, computer access, and outdoor recreation.
- Willard Elementary and Conwell Middle School are immediately adjacent to McPherson Square.
- Esperanza Health Center is a federally qualified health center near the Allegheny El stop.
- Impact Services’ headquarters is on Allegheny Avenue less than two blocks away.
Engaging community and building capacity
In May 2022, NKCDC purchased 3000 Kensington Avenue. We are beginning the process of creating a place where the Kensington community can come together to remember what the neighborhood used to be like, discuss how it came to be the way it is now, and envision what it should be in the future.
NKCDC’s role is to provide the real estate and a renovation budget, and to listen to residents about what services and programs they hope to have on the avenue—what is important to the community for the development process and building design, and what new public spaces should be like.
During the engagement process, 3000 Kensington Avenue will serve as a home for exhibits (like resident photos and artifacts or information about the impacts of redlining), visioning and feedback sessions, charrettes, performance measurement, course corrections, and milestone celebrations. It will also be a much-needed meeting space for civic organizations and neighborhood programs.
East Kensington Scattered Site Development
In the spring of 2021, NKCDC completed construction on the first of several new townhouses in East Kensington. Like with the Awesometown development, NKCDC is selling several properties at market rate to offset the costs of building four affordable homes. “Philadelphians are in dire need of reasonably-priced homes,” said Brian Horne, NKCDC’s Acting Director of Real Estate. “NKCDC would like to be developing affordable housing with all its projects, but the city doesn‘t offer enough subsidies for us to break even.”
Orinoka Civic House is a $17.8 million overhaul of the former Orinoka Mills factory at 2771-2777 Ruth Street, Philadelphia. Once a textile mill for curtains and upholstry, Orinoka now contains 51 units of sustainable, affordable housing, an indoor community space, a commercial storefront and NKCDC offices.
In 2016 Awesometown became the first LEED V4 Homes Platinum Certified project in Pennsylvania. NKCDC partnered with Postgreen Homes to redevelop a former industrial site into a unique mixed-income residential development of 14 sustainable townhomes. Ten were sold at market rate by Postgreen Homes; four were subsidized and sold to qualifying income-eligible homebuyers through NKCDC.