Recent Posts

  • Phabulous Philly Home of the Week: 2028 Chancellor St.

    Though the current owner, who uses this charming, elegant space as an office, has one, you don’t need a Ph.D. to see that this condo in the former John Wanamaker carriage house on secluded Chancellor Street near Rittenhouse Square is … Continued

  • Buildings Then and Now: From hospital to homes

    Before Graduate Hospital was Graduate Hospital, it was a neighborhood that had historically been home to Philadelphia’s black middle class but had fallen on hard times since the 1960s. Many of the institutions that black middle class built remain — the … Continued

  • Weekend Winners: April 18-20

    Farm-themed fun, flea markets and finery are on tap this weekend. Friday, April 18 Down on the farm on the Oval: The first weekend of the 2014 season of the Oval brings a touch of the country to the city with … Continued

Lunchtime Quick Hits

Living up to its name, Philadelinquency gives us a vivid and colorful portrait of the city’s property tax deadbeats; Wash West and Mayfair move cautiously towards creating Neighborhood Improvement Districts; a historic gateway to West Mount Airy will rise again, thanks to the efforts of two neighborhood groups; and the PhillyHistory Blog gives us a tour of a Gilded Age Parkside mansion many of whose Gilded Age features have survived intact:

MORE MAP PORN: And Now, The Spring 2014 Property Tax Deadbeat Collection (Philadelinquency)
Mayfair and Washington Square West flirt with improvement districts (Plan Philly)
Lincoln Drive gateway project gets financial boost (Newsworks|WHYY)
Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue (PhillyHistory Blog)

Does Philly have a housing affordability problem, or doesn’t it?

Front elevation of apartment building at 1430 South Street
New rental properties at any price point, like this one planned for the 1400 block of South Street, will help keep renting affordable if the growth in supply outpaces the growth in demand – it’s basic Econ 101.

Whatever your opinion on the subject, there’s no denying that housing affordability has become one of the Issues of the Day. We’ve long maintained (for instance, here and here) that, at least by East Coast standards, housing remains affordable overall in Philadelphia, and the problems we do have stem more from the city’s high poverty rate and the desire to maintain a mix of incomes in gentrifying neighborhoods than anything to do with the cost of housing itself.

But the welter of conflicting arguments and reports on the issue have begun to make our head spin. The latest: a report from real estate data site Zillow that states that rents in Philly may be bumping up against the threshold of unaffordability.

According to Zillow figures as reported by NBC10, a household earning the area median income will spend 28.2 percent of it on the rent on the median-priced rental property. That’s a significant jump from its historic level: from 1985 to 2000, rents ate up only 18.2 percent of the area median income.

While that 28.2 percent figure remains below the national average of 29.6 percent, it is worrisome because the rule of thumb for rentals is that rent and utilities should account for no more than 30 percent of income.

(And if that 28.2 percent makes renting in Philly almost unaffordable, then it appears we do have a nationwide housing affordability problem.)

But when one considers the lower median income in the city itself, affordable rental housing does become a matter for concern. According to numbers provided to NBC10 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $1,135. A renter would have to earn an hourly wage of $21.83 — $5 an hour more than what an average Philly renter earns, according to the NLIHC — in order to afford that apartment.

The easiest solution to the problem is the Econ 101 one: Build more rental units, period. Even an increase in the supply of expensive apartments frees up existing units for other renters, and if the increase in supply outpaces the increase in population, then rents will fall for the vacant units as landlords try to lure renters to their empty apartments.

At least in Center City and environs, builders have increasingly been doing just that, according to a recent Center City District report. A number of initiatives launched by City Council members also seek to increase the supply of affordable housing. But most of those focus on subsidizing the cost of construction. The real issue is enabling the would-be renter — or buyer — to afford what is being built, and that calls for different approaches.

Rents Unaffordable in Philadelphia: Study (

Six days to go until we move in with Philly Living

Moving van graphicJust a friendly reminder: Our move to takes place on Wednesday, April 23.

Effective that day, Philly Living is the place to go for Philadelphia development and real estate news and commentary.

You’ll also find advice that will help anyone who is thinking of living in Philadelphia or buying or selling a home there.

This is the first of several changes we’re making to Philly Living to make it the first place to turn to for your real estate needs.

Starting today, posts to the Real Estate Blog will also appear on Philly Living as part of the transition.

Don’t forget to update your bookmarks with our new address.

Same Real Estate Blog, new address, starting Wednesday

We've already called the movers.
We’ve already called the movers.

We’re busy wrapping the china and sorting out the posts we will need to unload at the garage sale in preparation for a move next week.

Starting Wednesday, the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog will combine with our sister blog at Philly Living. We will continue to offer you news about development and construction projects in neighborhoods across the city along with analysis and informed commentary on issues affecting the Philly real estate market and the city’s overall health from our new address. You’ll also see advice and tips for those looking to buy or sell a home in the city on the new combined site.

The move is the first of several changes connected to the relaunch of Philly Living as a brand you can trust for knowledge and expertise in the real estate business. In the coming months, the site will be redesigned to improve its visual appeal and better display both news and information for house-hunters.

In the meantime, update your address books so you don’t miss a thing. From now through Tuesday, we will post stories to both sites so you don’t miss a thing. Starting on Wednesday, look for RE Blog reporting at

Update your bookmarks!

Hidden Treasure Hunt: Tacked-on history

There’s old, and then there’s “old.” As anyone who has read the many groans over Robert A.M. Stern’s design for the Museum of the American Revolution (like this one, or this one, or this one) should know, efforts to create faux-historic buildings often ring false. But at least Stern understands the architectural language, as his authentically Neo-Georgian McNeil Center for Early American Studies at Penn demonstrated. Some architects don’t even get that right, such as the one who designed the structure where we found this gimcrack recently. Where did we spot this? And if you know, can you tell us why this building is much worse than Stern’s?


Answer next week.

Photo by the author

Last week’s Hidden Treasure Hunt answer: Maybe an unscrupulous produce vendor could have passed those orbs off as durian to a buyer with very bad eyesight, but it should have been clear that those were decorative lights strung on the branches of a deceased tree in front of 222 S. Jessup St. in Washington Square West.