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5 takeaways from a housing report focused on Center City

Three in five homes completed last year were in and around Center City. Most were apartments.

The Arthaus, one of the large residential towers under construction in Center City Philadelphia.
The Arthaus, one of the large residential towers under construction in Center City Philadelphia.Read moreCourtesy of Dranoff Properties

The number of residents walking around Center City returned to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2021, showing the resiliency of downtown’s residential segment, according to the Center City District’s annual housing report released Tuesday.

The greater Center City region — from river to river and from Girard Avenue to Tasker Street — has been the fastest growing residential section of Philadelphia for the last two decades, according to the Center City District, which promotes the success of downtown. Its population has increased by 38% in that time period.

“In the last two decades, land-use downtown diversified, the geography of residential Center City expanded, housing unit size increased, new apartment and condo buildings featured enhanced amenities, while retail and restaurant offerings in extended and adjacent neighborhoods began to approach those available downtown,” Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, said in a statement. “The pandemic appears to have accelerated these trends.”

But, he said, given the relationship between the city’s economy and residents’ well-being, even though the city saw a “substantial” rebound in 2021, “there still is work to do to achieve full recovery.”

In its report, the Center City District said Philadelphia must work harder to retain the people it has attracted and ensure the development and construction industries and those who benefit from reinvestment in the city’s neighborhoods reflect the city’s demographics.

As of 2020, the core of Center City had a population of 69,433; greater Center City had 202,100 residents.

Here are a few takeaways from Tuesday’s report:

Three in five homes completed last year were in and around Center City.

Citywide, more than 6,400 housing units were completed in 2021, according to the Center City District. Of those, 28% were in greater Center City, and 62% were in the area that includes greater Center City and adjacent areas in North and South Philadelphia. This combined area accounts for 16% of the city’s land.

Most of the new housing in Center City was apartments.

It’s a trend the area has seen for nine years, according to the Center City District. Nearly three in four Center City households lived in apartments in 2021. The rest of the greater Center City area was more evenly split between renters and homeowners.

Last year, just 5% of new housing units built in greater Center City were single-family homes. Meanwhile, 95% — 1,689 units — were apartments, mostly in buildings just outside Center City proper. A larger share of the housing built in 2020 was single-family units.

The View at Old City at 401 Race St. accounted for 216 of the 267 apartments completed in the core of Center City in 2021.

None of the units built in 2020 and 2021 was a condominium.

Construction rebounded after it was halted in spring 2020.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered construction stopped in March 2020 in a wide-ranging attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Construction resumed in a limited capacity in the city on May 1 of that year and has roared back since.

In 2021, completion of housing units waswere about 360 short of the roughly 2,140 finished in 2019 in greater Center City and just 57 units short of the 2,240 finished in adjacent neighborhoods.

Proposed development was spurred, in part, by the beginning of the phasing out of the 10-year tax abatement for new construction at the end of 2021. Permits for new residential construction in greater Center City in December 2021 more than doubled from November. November’s permit numbers were roughly double October’s.

» READ MORE: Philly planning officials expect more big real estate projects in 2022 despite property-tax break’s partial lapse

Half of the housing units proposed or pending in late 2021 in the city were in greater Center City.

As of Dec. 31, 17,279 housing units were proposed or under construction in greater Center City, according to permit data from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. That’s half the total number citywide.

And it’s triple the number of pending units at the end of 2020 and quadruple the number at the end of 2019, according to the Center City District.

The largest concentration of proposed units was in the 19123 zip code in Northern Liberties and Fishtown.

Core Center City had 4,365 pending units at the end of 2021, way up from 1,386 pending units at the end of 2020.

Five developments under construction in core Center City will result in 1,409 additional units: the Laurel, Arthaus, Riverwalk, Cathedral Square, and 12 + Sansom.

Residents of Center City are mostly white and young with college degrees.

Job growth, students and recent graduates, and large populations of millennials, empty nesters, and retirees have spurred housing demand in the Center City area, according to the Center City District.

Core Center City’s population is 44% residents who are ages 20 to 34. About 20% of the population is aged 35 to 54. People 65 and over make up 18% of the population.

Residents of greater Center City are 62% white, 15% Black, 11% Asian, 7% Hispanic, and 5% other, according to the Center City District’s analysis of 2020 Census data. Over the last two decades, the share of Hispanic and Asian residents of greater Center City has increased, while the Black population has decreased.

Nearly 80% of residents in core Center City had bachelor’s or higher degrees in 2019.