The Philadelphia Housing Authority has chosen a team of New York developers to reimagine a 1960s-era high-rise public housing complex in West Philadelphia into a more modern, higher-quality mixed-income community.
The vote at a board meeting Thursday means PHA can start negotiating an agreement with L+M Development Partners and MSquared to create a plan for more housing at the 12-acre campus at 44th and Market Streets. The three buildings that make up the West Park apartments were built in 1964 in the high-rise model of public housing that has since fallen out of favor nationwide with residents and housing officials.
Isolated from the rest of the neighborhood, the complex was part of the last wave of high-rise towers built by PHA and its buildings need extensive repairs and upgrades.
The housing authority wants a development that includes rentals for low-income households and where anyone regardless of income would want to live, instead of “failed” models that concentrated and segregated households with low incomes, said Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA’s president and chief executive officer.
PHA envisions a complex integrated into the broader community and that takes advantage of the site’s entire 12 acres to bring more housing options to a rapidly gentrifying area. The existing three buildings sit on two acres. Any future plan at the site must, at minimum, replace the 327 existing subsidized apartments.
“It’s really an exciting time for us,” Jeremiah said. “This is a project that should have been already underway, frankly. ... The residents have been wanting to get out of that development.”
Current residents will have first rights to move into the redeveloped property. The housing authority has begun meeting with residents to relocate them to other PHA sites across the city over the next 90 days or so.
In making the preliminary selection of L+M and MSquared as development partners, PHA cited L+M’s experience working with public housing authorities and redeveloping affordable housing, including a similar project in New York City. PHA plans to merge its vision for the site with that of residents and the developers.
L+M is based in Larchmont, N.Y., and has built, acquired, or preserved about 30,000 housing units, including 2,450 public housing units, according to a project spokesperson. MSquared, based in New York City, is a women-owned and women-managed real estate development and investment firm founded by a former deputy mayor.
The development team’s initial proposal calls for up to 1,000 units of income-limited and market-rate homes in low-rise buildings, multifamily homes in renovated towers, and new senior housing, according to a project spokesperson. About 70% of the homes would be reserved for households who meet income limits.
The developers’ plan also calls for reconnecting the campus to the surrounding community with new streets and sidewalks, improved public spaces, and possibly a bridge over SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line. The campus is blocks from an El station.
“We are very excited to be partnering with the PHA and residents of West Park,” Alicia Glen, founder and managing principal of MSquared, said in a statement. “Our vision takes a holistic approach to transforming an aging high-rise development into a high quality, mixed-income, mixed-use, people-focused community that will promote housing affordability, equity, economic mobility, and sustainability.”
Potential commercial space would include opportunities for childcare, restaurants, and other businesses, according to initial plans.
PHA considered proposals from several developers, including the Philadelphia luxury housing developer Post Bros., which wanted to build condos that current residents could eventually own — if they met eligibility guidelines — and to build market-rate housing on the rest of the site.
Jeremiah declined to speak about specific proposals but said that a plan with mostly market-rate housing would not meet the affordability needs of the residents PHA is mandated to serve and that most current residents would struggle to qualify for home ownership.