Anuj Gupta and Brad Copeland are the backbone of Mt. Airy USA, one of the few nonprofit real estate developers focusing on distressed properties in East Mount Airy.
They are pushing to include more residential units in its real estate portfolio, part of a "virtuous circle" that Gupta argues will revive the area.
In June 2014, Mt. Airy USA rehabbed 59 E. Phil Ellena St., the first location it redeveloped using the state's Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act of 2008, which lets community development and other groups take over tax-delinquent, blighted or vacant properties, and rehab or demolish them.
This year, Mt. Airy USA finished renovating 109 E. Phil Ellena, which it purchased for $35,000 and will now sell after investing about $55,000 into it. The nonprofit purchased 10 E. Hortter St. for $45,000, invested $55,000 in its renovation, and sold it for $124,000.
"We are the first CDC [community-development corporation] in Philadelphia to successfully use this [law] from start to finish, and quite possibly the first in Pennsylvania," Gupta said. The law "is arguably the most powerful tool we now have to fight blight, and we are planning to use it aggressively to address blight in our community."
Founded in the 1980s, Mt. Airy USA initially focused on commercial and mixed-use redevelopment, said Gupta, who joined in 2010. Copeland, real estate development director, joined in 2008. The two have added a residential component in many more mixed-use projects.
Little Jimmie's Bake House on Germantown Avenue, which opened in February, is the latest example.
"A few years ago, we turned our attention to the southern half of the 6500 to 6700 blocks," Copeland said. "There was still high blight, vacancy, crime. At 5 o'clock at night, there wasn't anyone on the street. It was a tough place to convince someone to open a shop. We acquired some vacant buildings . . . in particular, 6614-24 Germantown Avenue, a shack that dated back to the 1700s. It was an eyesore."
In 2011, Mt. Airy USA applied for a city grant that packaged the rehab of the shack with a vacant storefront on Germantown Avenue's 6500 block.
"It's important to pursue new projects and put residential units up on top of them. You put more eyes and ears in the neighborhood, create density and a customer base," Gupta said.
Including a $19 million charter-school project, Mt. Airy USA's current and completed projects total just over $30 million, according to its latest data.
Gupta previously worked in Mayor Nutter's administration as chief of staff and deputy commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections; deputy to the managing director; and deputy recovery officer for the administration of the city's Recovery Act Funds. Before that, he was a lawyer at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll.
Copeland manages day-to-day real estate activities, commercial and mixed-use development, residential housing development, and asset management.
The state's conservatorship law "gives the petitioner control of a property and ownership rights of titleholder without taking title to the property. If successful, you complete the rehab and teardown, or perhaps plant a community garden. Once done, then you petition the court to transfer the title. I argue it's the most powerful tool on a one-off basis we now have to fight blight," Gupta said.
These days, Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy has come alive with galleries, stores, and restaurants, including Little Jimmie's Bakery Café.
Mt. Airy USA tries to break even on the real estate. "We are a nonprofit, but we can't lose money on every project," Gupta said. "Our real estate assets are a significant portion of our budget. That's one reason we survived the recession."