The clock is ticking for real estate developers hoping to make a bid for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s former Liddonfield Homes site in Upper Holmesburg.
PHA re-advertised the 32.1-acre property at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street for purchase or lease on April 21. Originally, the public housing agency set a bidding deadline of May 21. The deadline was later extended to June 22. PHA was planning to meet with prospective developers and subcontractors in a pre-bid conference on the morning of May 20 at one of the agency’s offices in South Philadelphia.
In a process known as a request for quotes (RFQ) on the property, PHA called upon prospective builders to design 300 units of housing for low-income seniors on a 12-acre portion of the site, while leaving the remaining 20 acres for any of a variety of potential uses. The “affordable senior housing” is to be concentrated closer to the Cottage Street end of the tract, farthest from Torresdale Avenue.
In an April 28 news release, PHA said it is seeking “proposals for best use” for the 20-acre portion of the project, “which could include market rate residential housing and/or commercial space.” The agency stated it could sell the land outright or lease it to a developer.
In response to the news release, the Northeast Times asked an agency spokeswoman, Nichole Tillman, to explain the concept of “best use” further. In an emailed reply, Tillman wrote:
“PHA is hoping to receive creative proposals that will demonstrate a variety of options for usage. These determinations of ‘best use’ should also incorporate a similar theme found in the ‘City’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan in the North Delaware District.’ It can include but is not limited to open space, recreation, commercial, residential and market-rate housing.”
Open space and recreation space is a topic that will likely be of great interest to neighbors of the site. Under a previous request for proposals issued in 2010, PHA called for at least 20 acres of open/recreation space, a use that the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association and City Councilman Bobby Henon had advocated. PHA subsequently awarded development rights to a firm that proposed to fulfill the 20-acre requirement by constructing athletic fields for Holy Family University and community use. But the relationship between the builder and university fell apart over funding, sources familiar with the proposal have said. The project never got off the ground. PHA voided its contract with the developer early this year.
The PHA spokeswoman said via email that the agency still values the wishes of the community regarding land use.
“Like in the past, PHA will consider a plan that will include the desires of the neighborhood,” Tillman wrote. “The community has consistently expressed the need for affordable senior housing. That is why PHA continues to include senior housing in the forefront of development discussions for this area.”
The successful bidder will be eligible for millions of dollars in public subsidies. PHA is prepared to award $2 million to the developer to finance a portion of construction costs. In addition, the developer could benefit from “project base” vouchers. Tillman described those as rent subsidies. Unlike federally funded “housing choice” vouchers, which PHA awards to low-income people, regardless of where they choose to live, project base vouchers are tied to housing units. The subsidies benefit whoever is living there at the time. The vouchers create a reliable stream of rent income for the property owner or manager.
While the local civic association has endorsed low-income housing with age restrictions, it has been steadfastly opposed to the creation of a new all-ages public housing development at Liddonfield. The former housing project there was built in 1955 and expanded in 1968. At its peak, it included 464 units in two-story and single-story rowhouses. Over the decades, the project became notorious for crime and illicit drug activity. PHA gradually moved residents out of the site and demolished it with the help of millions in state funding in 2010. ••