A workforce-housing effort breaks ground at last

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The 13 units of housing that will be built on North Marshall Street are depicted in an artist's rendering.

Good things come, they say, to those who wait - in this case, Lawrence McKnight, a principal in BMK Properties, who has done a considerable amount of running in place the last year or so.

In summer 2015, McKnight and Mohamed Rushdy, his partner in Fishtown-based BMK, bought 40-plus properties from the city in the Francisville and East Poplar neighborhoods to build "workforce housing."

Last month, McKnight and Rushdy broke ground in the 900 and 1000 blocks of North Marshall Street in East Poplar for 13 two- and three-story houses designed for median-income wage earners. "It took a long time, but we made it through all of the hurdles and are ready to build," McKnight said.

East Poplar, Francisville, Port Richmond, East Kensington, and Fishtown are among neighborhoods targeted by developers of high-end housing for millennial buyers after having spent nearly five decades in decline, avoided and ignored.

McKnight and Rushdy are part of a growing number of socially conscious developers who want to improve these neighborhoods without displacing the people who kept them alive for all those decades.

That means building homes "to take care of the people who take care of us - police, firefighters, and teachers," said McKnight, who grew up in Fishtown. His father was a Philadelphia police officer who worked an extra job to put his son through school, and his mother was principal of St. Laurentius School, so the developer comes from that group.

"Ever since we started this company, we have wanted to give back to those people who make our communities great," he said. "This program allows us to express our gratitude and provide future generations of Philadelphians high-quality homes to live in.

"There will be no subsidies or grants," he said.

To be eligible, buyers' income cannot exceed 120 percent of the areawide median.

Because higher-income, younger buyers have been pushed out of Center City into adjacent neighborhoods since the boom years and the downturn that followed, middle-income buyers find that they cannot compete for new and rehabbed housing in these areas.

BMK's workforce-housing project will increase the availability of affordable housing in close proximity to Center City and the neighborhoods to which buyers are flowing.

In the first nine months of 2016, the median price of the 172 houses that sold in the Poplar neighborhood was $111,750, according to data from Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors HomExpert Market Report.

While that might not seem like a lot of money - the citywide median price in the third quarter was $149,000, according to Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University - the Poplar median price was 54.7 percent higher than in the first nine months of 2014, the HomExpert Report shows.

Look at Fishtown, where the median of $292,250 was 35.9 percent higher than in the first nine months of 2014, and the situation is much clearer.

All 13 BMK units will be priced at $299,999, with mortgages available from Meridian Bank, which provided the financing for the workforce project.

Homes will range from 1,100 to 1,200 square feet and will be a mix of two- and three-story rowhouses with large rear yards. There will be a minimum of three bedrooms.

HVAC systems and hot-water heaters will be 92 percent energy-efficient, and the homes will have Energy Star stainless-steel kitchen appliances.

There will be modern Shaker-style cabinets, granite countertops, hardwood throughout the first floor and hallways, carpeting in the bedrooms, and tiled bathrooms.

The homes come with a builder guarantee, and a 10-year tax abatement has been applied for.

"This project is a great example of how the private sector, housing agencies, and City Council, can work together to provide new-construction homes in destination neighborhoods for hardworking Philadelphians," said Rushdy.

aheavens@phillynews.com
215-854-2472
@alheavens

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