In August 2016, The Collaborative wrapped up a Design Grant with the Southwest Community Development Corporation (SWCDC) to support the organization’s first foray into affordable housing development. Steve Kuzmicki, Economic Development Project Manager at Southwest CDC, is excited about the positive feedback the project is receiving—as well as its potential to steer the organization in new directions.
SWCDC serves over 70,000 people in a swath of the city that extends from Baltimore Avenue to Philadelphia International Airport, and from Schuylkill River to Cobbs Creek. As both a CDC and a Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC), the organization offers housing counseling, low-income home energy assistance, summer school and after-school programs, and workforce development in partnership with Paschalville Branch of the Free Library and PA CareerLink. In addition, SWCDC is a Neighborhood Energy Center where residents can apply for bill payment assistance through LIHEAP and other programs, learn how to conserve water, gas and electricity, and obtain energy counseling.
SWCDC also works in partnership with FINANTA, a community development financial institution (CDFI), in managing a micro-lending program offering loans to small businesses on the Woodland Avenue Commercial Corridor, many owned by African immigrants and refugees.
When Steve joined the SWCDC staff several years ago, he wanted to use his previous real estate development experience to pursue affordable housing for the community. He says, “What motivated me is a strategic plan done in 2002. One of the recommendations of that plan was to create gateways into the community at strategic locations. I married that goal to city-owned land at 63rd Street and Lindburgh Boulevard.”
Meeting the needs of seniors
Originally, the project was envisioned as a development geared towards first-time homeowners, that is, until a steering committee of stakeholders organized by SWCDC gave their feedback. “The community really refocused us on rental housing for seniors, including seniors caring for grandchildren,” says Steve.
“The community really refocused us on rental housing for seniors, including seniors caring for grandchildren."
The outcome was Southwest Gateway Housing: a conceptual design for 88 units of affordable rental housing for families and seniors. In fact, the Collaborative’s report points out that the integration of both types of housing units would create a diverse community that would enrich the lives of both seniors and families.
Southwest Gateway Housing will establish a sense of arrival at the intersection of 63rd Street and Lindburgh Boulevard, one of the neighborhood’s arterial roads, and will serve as a gateway into the community. For that reason, the Collaborative’s volunteer team’s design includes concepts for gateway signage, pedestrian crossings, and outdoor amenities for tenants like rain gardens, balconies, and shared patios.
The community input process not only transformed what the development should be, but also reinforced SWCDC’s commitment to prioritizing community feedback. In the end, residents learned about the intricacies of affordable housing development, particularly how low-income housing tax credits work, and left the table feeling optimistic about the project and its potential benefit to the community.
“I think people learned through the community meetings that we were really serious about getting input from the community. It wasn’t just lip service. We made residents feel good about the potential for the project, and see that stuff was happening.”
The Collaborative’s work “has opened doors”, says Steve. "[The project] heightened and renewed interest in the Southwest." SWCDC is now working with a nonprofit developer, Community Ventures, and is applying for affordable rental and special needs housing funding from the city and low-income housing tax credits from the state. Due to the highly competitive nature of funding for affordable housing, this will likely take more than one attempt.
"The project heightened and renewed interest in the Southwest."
In the meantime, “our biggest job will be to keep the project in the minds of community members.” The CDC hopes to activate the site of the future development through community-oriented programming such as farmer’s markets and health fairs—a recommendation in the Collaborative’s report.
Steve is thankful that the Collaborative project has put a spotlight on a neighborhood that, even with a slew of exciting projects happening directly north in West Philadelphia, usually flies under the radar. “It really helped spark interest in the Southwest,” he says. “We’re sort of overlooked a lot of times, but I think that’s beginning to change. When this gets built, it will certainly act as a catalyst for more development.”
Learn more about the conceptual design for Southwest Gateway Housing and the volunteers who partnered with Southwest CDC on the project.