By transforming anchor properties, we transform Kensington
Real estate takes a village
For years, the vacant tower of the former Orinoka Mills textile factory loomed over Somerset Street. It had become an eyesore, a safety hazard, and a harbor for illegal activity. In 2012, when NKCDC facilitated the broad community conversation that became the North of Lehigh Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, addressing the blighted Orinoka Mills building was one of our neighbors’ top concerns.
It took a coalition of local residents and community leaders, city and state government agencies, and national foundation support to purchase and rehab the five-story factory into 51 one and two bedroom income-based rental apartments, with office space for NKCDC on the ground floor. When the building opened for occupancy in 2017, there was a waiting list of over 600 names, almost all seeking the apartments priced at 20 percent of Philadelphia’s Area Median Income.
Truly affordable housing
Much “affordable” housing in Philadelphia is not affordable to Philadelphians. Median family income in Philadelphia was $58,090 in 2020 according to U.S. Census estimates. But at the same time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said its Area Median Income for Philadelphia—which is used to set home prices and rental rates across the city—was $96,600. That’s because HUD uses an eleven-county Metropolitan Statistical Area to calculate affordability in Philadelphia, a city that is far poorer than the surrounding area.
NKCDC is committed to building and renting housing that is appropriately priced for the neighborhoods it serves. Our apartments rent at 20 to 60 percent of HUD’s Area Median Income for Philadelphia. We build and sell market-rate single family homes to offset the cost of pricing other homes below market rate.
Strategic investments for community health
Real estate development is a critical piece of NKCDC’s community-driven development strategy. Because of Kensington’s vacant land, low real estate prices, and proximity to Center City and transportation corridors, it attracts real estate speculation. “This is a story of developers who own everything out here and are waiting to extract the incredible value of property sitting along a train line,” Executive Director Dr. Bill McKinney writes in Plan Philly.
Out-of-town investors have no incentive to improve their properties until they can turn a profit. But vacant and blighted properties continue to complicate neighbors’ lives and depress investment in the area. In response, NKCDC and its community partners are moving to acquire abandoned buildings and vacant land on Kensington Avenue, and to transform them into community assets that provide resources and services for neighborhood residents as well as those suffering from addiction and homelessness.
A comprehensive approach to real estate
NKCDC’s community development also enhances our real estate development. We do not simply build and sell houses—we invest in the community we create.
- Our housing services provide first-time homebuyer workshops, financial education, and utility, property tax, and rental assistance to help our tenants succeed.
- Our Community Health Workers, and our nutrition education program, Nourish, connect families to affordable health and wellness resources.
- NKCDC’s Empowerment Hub gives convenient access to legal, financial and benefits organizations that directly serve community members.
- And NKCDC employs a resident services coordinator who stays in contact with tenants to answer questions, plan community events, and assess needs at our properties.
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.