Nicetown-Tioga: Welcoming Students as Neighbors, but Still Waiting

This house on 18th and Tioga Streets is shared by both students and locals.]

Andrei Soldatov, a local landlord, said that the number of students living in the neighborhood is much lower than he expected.

Temple University’s brand new School of Medicine building may look shiny, fancy and full of activity on the outside, but Tioga businessman Andrei Soldatov said the inside is a whole different story. “It’s like a ghost building,” Soldatov said of the building’s interior. “It looks nice, but it’s almost empty.”

Though he is not affiliated with Temple, Soldatov has a vested interest in the university’s medical students. As a landlord in the Tioga and Nicetown neighborhoods of North Philadelphia, Soldatov had planned on having students line up around the block to rent his apartments once the new building opened last summer. In fact, Soldatov, who used to live in New York City, where he owned a college residence hall and other apartments, said that he and his family moved to Philadelphia two years ago because he had heard about the new building and saw an opportunity.

Unfortunately, according to Soldatov, the students didn’t come in the numbers he had expected. “There were supposed to be 3,000 medical students when the building opened,” he said. “Right now, there are just over 1,000.” According to the university, only 196 new students were matriculated into the medical school class this year, and an admissions office representative said that most of those students find their own housing outside of the health campus area.

While Soldatov posted his apartment listings on bulletin boards and passed out fliers around Temple’s health campus, he said, he still found it difficult to find Temple students to fill his vacancies.He owns a house on the 3400 block of 18th Street and has been forced to rent to students from other schools in the city. Right now, he said, he rents to one student from Temple and one from the Community College of Philadelphia, as well as a medical student from Thomas Jefferson University and a Temple professor.

The medical school’s low enrollment numbers may not be the only reason why the students haven’t come in packs yet. Vanessa McBride, a recent graduate of Temple University’s main campus, decided to move off campus two years ago into an apartment building on the corner of 18th and Tioga streets. While she said she enjoys living there, she also said that she hasn’t noticed much growth in the student population around her.

“Most of the med students live east of Broad Street, not this way,” McBride said. The few students who do cross into the western part of Tioga, McBride said, tend to stay as close to Broad Street as they can. “Not very many students come down here to 17th or 18th Street,” she said.

One reason for this could simply be a fear of the unknown. McBride admitted that when she first moved to the area, she was concerned about safety. “I thought that there was going to be a lot of crime going on, a lot of loitering, a lot of people hanging around,” she said, “but I found it to be a really quiet neighborhood.” She said she had her car broken into once, but she also said that “something like that could have happened anywhere.”

This house on 18th and Tioga streets is shared by both students and locals.

Not all students in the area have been as lucky as McBride, though. T.J. Allen, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia who has lived in the apartment below McBride since September, has had more than one unpleasant incident happen since moving in. “My neighbor tried to break into our house at one point,” he said. “We’ve gotten robbed twice. Our other neighbor got her car broken into.”

At the same time, Allen said that living in the neighborhood has not been all bad, describing the overall experience as “pretty up-and-down.

“The people who have been nice have been really nice,” he said. “For the most part, as a student, everyone around here has been pretty nice,” he said.

Soldatov backed this up, saying that he hadn’t noticed any trouble between students and local residents. “Everyone likes them,” Soldatov said, speaking at least for the students he rents to. “The students and the neighbors, they all know each other now.”

James Smith, who moved to the area three years ago and lives in the same building as McBride and another student, agreed. “I know them pretty well,” he said of his neighbors, “We’re cool. We joke around with each other.”

Local resident James Smith said that he would welcome more students into the neighborhood.

While college students may carry with them a reputation for boozing, partying and playing loud music all night, Smith said he hadn’t noticed any difference in the students’ behavior from that of anyone else in the neighborhood. “They don’t bother anybody,” he said. He admitted, though, that he isn’t completely accustomed to seeing students around the neighborhood. “I’m not used to seeing the different faces,” he said.

It is especially difficult to predict what’s in store for Tioga and Nicetown’s residential future. While poverty and crime continue to be deterrents and students are still few and far between, the developments and house rehabs going on from block to block suggest that more will be coming in no time and that the neighborhood is on the upswing. There is simply too much contradicting evidence around to make an accurate guess about its prospects.

People like Soldatov, though, insisted that the neighborhood is growing. He pointed out some of these development projects going on throughout the neighborhood, with once-vacant homes being turned into rented units all around. He also shared some real estate facts and figures. When Soldatov bought his first house in the area, he said, in “shell” condition–nothing but walls and ceilings–he paid around $45,000. Now, he said, the same type of house, in the same condition, goes for almost $100,000.

Soldatov said he hope that students will come and become more and more of a presence in the community. McBride said she would like to see more interactions between students and locals. “I think a lot of students tend to just park here, just live here, not really associate themselves with the residents, and that’s unfortunate.”

Still, Smith said he would welcome more students to the neighborhood if they were to come. “It’s cool with me, as long as we can get along with each other,” he said. For another look at new trends in housing see this story.

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