Brewerytown’s real estate power struggle has been burning hot for about five years now. But recently the neighborhood’s renaissance has been stalled, leaving new buyers and long-time residents left wondering if the new found interest in their North Philadelphia neighborhood was a false alarm or the prelude to something bigger?
Over the last 10 years housing in the area has evolved, quickly rising with the tides of the larger Philadelphia market and tripling values of residential properties. The increase in housing costs has created a gentrification of the area where longtime residents can no longer afford housing in their own neighborhood.
Home to 11,954 residents, Brewerytown is nearly 75 percent residential with 4,490 households, according to recent census data. Of that, 3,876 are living below the poverty line. Nearly 40 percent live on less than $10,000 a year.
According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Information System (NIS) based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 Census Summary, the median household income in Brewerytown is $15,888, encompassing about 10 percent of the population. Only 0.5 percent of households are within the $200,000 plus a year bracket.
With the majority of residents living on or below the poverty line it would be of the neighborhoods best interest to provide more and more affordable housing. But housing cost trends in the last 10 years in Brewerytown and across the city have become more and more expensive.
In Philadelphia between 1999 and 2001 the median sale price for a residential property was less than $50,000 but 2007, after a slight dip, had passed the $90,000 mark.
Though the city’s real estate bubble popped just a few years ago in Brewerytown, prices have leveled off nearly three times higher than where they began. In Brewerytown the median sale price for a row home in 1999 was a mere $12,5000. By 2003 the cost had more than doubled at $29,700. By 2006 housing peaked in the area at $46,500 and in 2007 residential housing was averaging $40,000.
According to the NIS parcelBase site, a 1,164-square-foot, twostory residential home on the 1600 block of 30th Street sold for $3,500 in 2000. In 2007 the same property was sold for $2 million.
At 30th and Master, Westrum Development’s Brewerytown Square occupies “Phase 1” of what was initially planned as a 17-acre development on a once-blighted Brownfield site. A newly built, never occupied, corner property home on the property sold for $355,705 in 2006. Today the home is up for sale at $314,900, depreciating $10,805 in just three years.
Westrum’s 1,700-square-foot, three-story homes come fully equipped with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a garage and visitor parking, cathedral ceilings, granite counter tops, oak cabinets, over-sized showers, ceramic tiles, master bedroom skylights, walk-in closets. The development also has a security system and 24-hour patrol, all within the confines of a gated community.
The Westrum Development Co., headquartered in Fort Washington, has been the cause of both growth and contention in the area for years. In a 2006 Westrum was involved in a losing eminent domain case.
Jon Westrum was quoted as saying the decision to allow the building to remain “sets a precedent for the failure of NTI,” former Mayor John Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.
The building’s owner put hundreds of thousands of dollars into saving the space, stating that that the building had a “strategic value” and that “it was the only building available that could prevent Westrum from creating an economically segregated community.”
Westrum did not respond to interview requests.
According to community comments on philadelphiaspeaks.com, Phases 2 and 3 of the Master Plan are a distant memory. Some residents believe that Westrum has pulled up stakes, selling the remaining land to other developers leaving behind empty lots, busted fences and broken dreams of a potential supermarket for the once promising area.
Adam Lang, one of the philadelphiaspeaks.com posters, is a member of the board of directors of the Brewerytown Sharswood Community Civic Association, chairman of the Republican 29th Ward, founder of The Loyal Opposition and a member of the West Girard Supermarket Coalition.
“Westrum hasn’t exactly been communicative–once they don’t need anything anymore,“ said Lang.
He has seen the evolution of the Brewerytown area and has kept up on the saga. “Their initial development, the condos, have filled up,” he said. “Several pieces of land they’ve sold off, but they have said they would come back when the market turns around. But there’s not a market for the $300,000 town homes.”
Francesca Constanzo, a renter in the new condos, moved to the area for amenities like the price, parking and access. Though happy with her home, she thinks the neighborhood leaves much to be desired.
“It’s going to take about maybe 10 years before this becomes a neighborhood,” said Constanzo. “There’s really nothing else to do here except just to live. As far as a community it really isn’t.”
Despite attempts at putting up fliers in the new development, civic association members tend to be comprised of the long-time residents, he said.
But when it comes to the rest of the neighborhood “a lot of the rehab work going on is on houses that weren’t inhabited to begin with,” said Lang.
Pennrose Properties, a development and property management company, has spent the last two decades dedicated to providing affordable housing in the area beginning 20 years ago with residential developments on 20th and Diamond, said CEO Richard Barnhart. Since then, the company has completed the Sartain School at 29th and Oxford and finished the Mt. Vernon House off of Ridge Avenue.
Three years ago when Pennrose acquired the 600,000-square-foot ACME cold storage building the company built 60 loft units and set up shop in a new 40,000-square-foot headquarters. The space is also home to the Brewerytown Community Development Corp.
“We have had a project under construction in order to produce affordable housing for the past 20 years,” said Barnhart. “I think any neighborhood should have a balance of market rate and affordable housing and provide housing for all income levels.”
“The Westrum plans for the neighborhood, I thought they were pretty aggressive,” said Barnhart. “I’d like to see him start another phase. And the grocery store on Girard Avenue.”
Pennrose is headquartered at One Brewery Park, 1301 N. 31st St. Pennrose relocated its headquarters from One Liberty Place to the Brewerytown spot in October 2006 in an attempt to bring jobs to the neighborhood.
“I can guarantee that were the only corporation to move 70 jobs from Center City. It’s just consistent with our corporate mission. We wanted to put our headquarters in the neighborhood and we’ve hired from the neighborhood,” said Barnhart. “We have a strong connection to North Philadelphia.”