Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Town By Town: In Point Breeze, the key point is price

New townhouses on Federal Street near 16th offer such features as street-side garages.
New townhouses on Federal Street near 16th offer such features as street-side garages. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
New townhouses on Federal Street near 16th offer such features as street-side garages. Gallery: Town By Town: In Point Breeze, the key point is price

One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.

Location for Point Breeze, as with other neighborhoods adjacent to Center City, is bringing change - some welcome, some not so much.

In fact, as you try to discern what is happening in this South Philadelphia neighborhood, you are warned that you are, in the words of one source, "wading into that thorny mess."

There is a push and pull in Point Breeze that has been regularly reported and well-documented on the Internet using any search engine.

More coverage
  • Downingtown's slow, but growing revival
  • It is a struggle between some for-profit developers looking to take advantage of the demand by younger, mostly two-paycheck buyers unable to afford Center City prices and community organizations fearing higher taxes that accompany revitalization. The latter group is advocating instead for affordable housing for longtime residents.

    As with Francisville north of Center City, there is nothing especially unique about Point Breeze that makes it a target for development - for-market or subsidized projects - as economist Kevin Gillen emphasizes.

    The story of Philadelphia's revitalization in the last 30 years has been, says Gillen, the outward expansion from Center City to its adjacent neighborhoods.

    Point Breeze, says Gillen, of the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government, is simply "positioned to be the next domino to fall."

    What makes this so is that Point Breeze is directly in line with what was once known as the Graduate Hospital neighborhood but now is generally referred to as Southwest Center City, says Mickey Pascarella, of Keller Williams Real Estate, who sells there.

    "There are three things bringing buyers to Point Breeze, and they are price, price, and price," says Pascarella, who also sells in Francisville and agrees there are similarities between the two sectors.

    "North of Washington Avenue [in Southwest Center City], a three-bedroom, one-bath house sells for $637,000," Pascarella says. "The same house goes for $375,000 south of Washington Avenue."

    It is an affordability issue for younger buyers, he says, looking to be close to "Graduate Hospital because it is, for them, the new Rittenhouse Square."

    This level of demand has helped put Point Breeze on the top 10 list

    As with Francisville, development is occurring closer to Broad Street, with its easy access to public transit, even though, as Gillen notes, Point Breeze "is well-positioned to benefit from the continued revitalization of the Schuylkill Banks waterfront - with the extension of the greenway southward adding a real amenity that appeals to many potential buyers."

    There aren't a lot of big projects, says Pascarella, mainly "one-offs" in which a developer builds a single on an infill or rehabs a three-bedroom, one-bath that can sell for up to $400,000.

    One example of a larger effort is reNewbold, at 16th and Moore, historically part of Point Breeze but now called Newbold.

    On the site of the former Francis M. Drexel public school that he acquired in 2010, South Philadelphia Taproom owner John Longacre, his LPMG Cos., and Postgreen Homes have broken ground for 16 townhouses, two condos, and retail space in line for LEED certification.

    Pascarella has sold one of the townhouses, due for completion in 18 months, with a price range of $249,000 to $375,000.

    One should not forget that, beginning in the 1990s, Point Breeze has benefited from the efforts by Kenny Gamble's Universal Homes to build affordable rentals and single-family homes, notably in the blocks along Federal Street near Broad.

    Since 2008, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Office of Housing and Community Development have been spending federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds in Point Breeze to counteract the effects of the downturn.

    The NSP's 2013 report, published earlier this year, showed that $68 million received under two rounds of federal funding - 2008 and 2009 - was spent in city neighborhoods suffering from high rates of foreclosure and abandonment.

    Point Breeze was one of the neighborhoods chosen because it was, in the words of the report, in transition, "marked by high levels of vacancy and foreclosure yet adjacent to strong residential markets."

    Of the $14 million spent on new construction since the first round of funding in 2008, $8 million came from the city. Partnering with community-based nonprofits such as South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. and Diversified Community Services, 40 units of affordable housing were built, targeting buyers falling within 80 percent to 120 percent of the area median income.

    Eighteen more were rehabbed for low- and moderate-income residents - the majority bank-owned repossessions acquired by the city from lenders.

    Sales prices ranged from $125,000 - for houses that were accessible for those with disabilities - up to $250,000.

    Although designed for low- and moderate-income buyers, the new homes and rehabs scattered strategically throughout Point Breeze have the same amenities - Energy Star standards and the city's 10-year tax abatement - as market-rate homes that are attractive to middle- and upper-income buyers today.

    There will be more real estate development as time goes on, Gillen predicts, noting that the completion of the connector bridges over the river will increase access to Penn and Penn's medical complex and add to the convenience of Point Breeze.

    By the numbers

    Population: 25,585 (2010)

    Median income: $27,825 (2011)

    Area: 0.82 square miles

    Homes for sale: 211

    Settlements in the last three months: 252*

    Median days on market: 80*

    Median price (all homes): $285,000*

    Housing stock: 19th- century rowhouses, new townhouses, condos, and rental units.

    School district: Philadelphia

    *Most of Point Breeze falls in the 19146 zip code boundary, shared with Southwest Center City.

    SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, City-Data.com; BHHS Fox & Roach HomExpert Report


    aheavens@phillynews.com

    215-854-2472 @alheavens

    Alan J. Heavens Inquirer Real Estate Columnist