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May 24, 2024

204-unit apartment complex proposed in West Philly includes affordable housing

The project at 5235 Chestnut St. sits in an zoning district that was created to prevent displacement of low-income residents.

Development Apartments
West Philly Apartments Provided Image/KCA Design Associates

A rendering shows the 204-unit apartment building proposed at 5235 Chestnut St. in West Philadelphia. The project sits within the mixed-income zoning overlay that requires 20% of the units to be affordable housing.

A 204-unit apartment complex proposed in West Philadelphia would reserve 20% of its units for affordable housing to satisfy the requirements of a zoning overlay implemented two years ago to ensure that more rentals tied to income are included in neighborhood development projects. 

The proposal at 5235 Chestnut St., near SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line stop, would front the 5200 block of Ludlow Street with a smaller building facing Chestnut Street. The larger building calls for 171 units and the smaller one would have 33 units. Both buildings would rise six floors, each with partial green roofs. Amenities include gyms, storage rooms and bicycle parking. 

The project sits within a mixed-income zoning overlay that mandates the inclusion of affordable rental units for people earning up to 40% of the area median income. The zoning overlay is in the city's 3rd District, represented by City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. A second zoning overlay like it is in the city's 7th District in Kensington, represented by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez. 

The purpose of the affordable housing overlays has been to create more options for low-income residents and prevent their displacement, but developers have been wary of pursuing projects in these areas because the requirements impose financial constraints. 

The proposal in West Philly is being led by Big Shot 52 LLC, an independent venture of OCF Realty's vice president of investments, Jon Adler. Based on the requirements of the zoning overlay, 41 units in the project would need to be affordable with rents of about $700 for studios and $900 for two-bedroom apartments. 

Adler told the Philadelphia Business Journal the proximity to public transit is a major factor in pursuing the project. The zoning overlay does not require the project to include parking, so the nearby subway station would be viewed as a draw for future tenants. 

“The numbers on this project are tight, to be very direct," Adler told the Business Journal. 

The majority of the apartments in the building would be market rate with units "of varying size and price points," a submission to the city's Civic Design Review panel says. The project, which can be built by right, is scheduled to go before CDR for recommendations on June 4. 

At the time the zoning overlay was implemented in West Philly, Gauthier noted that the Black population had been halved in the neighborhood east of 52nd Street over the last four decades. She said the pending expiration of federal affordable housing contracts threatened about 25 apartment buildings in her district. 

Most notably, at 39th and Market streets, the University City Townhomes complex prompted protests from affordable housing advocates over developer IBID Associates' decision not to seek a renewal of its contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The developer filed a lawsuit against the city over its efforts to block the demolition and sale of the property. A settlement reached last year allows the demolition to proceed with land set aside for the city to construct a building with 70 affordable units. The 70 households displaced from University City Townhomes also will receive payments of up to $50,000 as part of IBID Associates' $3.5 million settlement with the city. 

Adler said he hopes to begin construction on the 204-unit building in 15-18 months and anticipates a two-year timeline after that for the project to be completed.