Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

At 4050 Apartments, affordable live-work space included for artists

Whenever she passes a sign announcing another "luxury" housing project, Betty Leacraft says, she wonders "why many developers don't think about including some affordable housing for the people who already live there."

Rendering of 4050 Haverford -- affordable housing for artists.
Rendering of 4050 Haverford -- affordable housing for artists.Read more

Whenever she passes a sign announcing another "luxury" housing project, Betty Leacraft says, she wonders "why many developers don't think about including some affordable housing for the people who already live there."

Among those people: artists like Leacraft, who lives and works in the lower Lancaster Avenue area of West Philadelphia, near where she grew up.

In recent years, an increasing number of artists have been drawn to West Powelton, Mill Creek, Mantua, and other neighborhoods by affordable space in which to live and work - much as they once migrated to parts of the city that are now enclaves of high-end housing.

As the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University expand, and University City moves northward and westward, concern grows among both artists and lifelong residents that they will be displaced.

"You've seen it happen in other neighborhoods, such as South Street," said Brian Bazemore, an artist who has lived in Mantua for more than 20 years. "Artists are the people who bring change to neighborhoods, and they are the ones who are eventually pushed out because of it."

In this particular neighborhood, however, someone is saying, in Leacraft's words, "We know you are here."

Tuesday morning - "snow or shine," said spokeswoman Trish Downey - the People's Emergency Center plans to break ground on a $7.2 million, 24,350-square-foot, 20-unit rental project at 4050 Haverford Ave. that will offer live-work space to artists as well as affordable housing to those who need it.

More than a decade in the making, the project, known as 4050 Apartments, will be built on a now-vacant lot at Haverford Avenue and Preston Street that the center acquired from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, said Kira Strong, the center's vice president of community and economic development.

"In 2004-05, when Penn convened the Friends of 40th Street to talk about the corridor, members of the neighborhood's creative and cultural community expressed fears of being displaced by real estate development," Strong said.

Although the center immediately began looking at the possibility of building affordable live-work space, "the recession slowed down the process," she said.

People's Emergency Center has a history of affordable and special-needs housing development: 250 units thus far, said president Kathy Desmond.

Since 2011, the community development corporation has developed 39 units in five projects, she said.

Strong said the community played a major role in the planning for 4050 Apartments over the years, much as residents are involved in how the neighborhood evolves.

Among the biggest challenges is the development of an "incredible amount" of student housing in West Powelton, she added.

Because West Philadelphia has "one of the largest concentrations of cultural assets in the city," there was no shortage of people from the community eager to offer advice, Strong said.

"One thing the artists on the advisory committees urged us is not to assume that all of them are 22 and single," she said. The three-story units at 4050 Apartments will have from one to three bedrooms.

"We are a diverse group: young artists and those who are, like me, young at heart," said Leacraft, who served on a committee.

Designed by PZS Architects with construction by Allied Builders, 4050 Apartments has flexible layouts and high ceilings, offering plenty of available light. There also will be a community room on the first floor, for artists to offer classes to the neighborhood, Strong said.

People's Emergency Center was able to secure $563,537 in low-income tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, being syndicated by National Equity Fund with First Niagara Bank.

Support from others - the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh with TD Bank, the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York with First Niagara Bank, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the city Commerce Department, Community Lenders Community Development Corp., Local Initiatives Support Corp., and the Redevelopment Authority - allowed the center to close a funding gap caused "by a spike in construction costs when we were ready to bid," Strong said.

Site preparation will begin Wednesday.

"We have an aggressive timeline for completion," Strong said, "late November or early December."

215-854-2472 @alheavens