Plan to renovate apartments in Mt. Airy sparks discrimination complaint

A group of tenants at a West Allens Lane apartment complex has filed a discrimination complaint in an apparent effort to block a developer’s plan to renovate several buildings. The move has led a Mt. Airy town watch group to offer to help mediate between the two parties.

Andrew Eisenstein, managing director of Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, recently purchased the four-building site at 136 W. Allens Lane with intentions of improving both the interior and exterior of the plot.

The overhaul would likely attract higher rents, making it difficult for some residents to afford one of the new units.

Eisenstein, a Mt. Airy resident, was invited to discuss the project with nearby neighbors during a Thursday night meeting of the Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch, but declined to attend.

Steve Stroiman, the Town Watch’s coordinator, said a group of tenants have reportedly banded together and filed a fair housing complaint against Iron Stone.

The complaint is typically filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development when an individual or group alleges that discrimination – based on, among other things, race, religion, sex, family status and disability – has taken place.

It’s unclear why the complaint was filed. No tenants from the apartment complex were present at the meeting.

The town watch group has pledged to try to “build a sense of trust” between the developer and the tenants of the low-income apartment complex who fear they will be priced out of their homes.

Referencing an email correspondence with Eisenstein, Stroiman said, “He (the developer) felt very uncomfortable coming here, talking to the community because he said, ‘now it shifts it to the legal domain and no longer the community domain,'”

Asked about the project via email Thursday evening, Eisenstein told NewsWorks that “there is nothing too exciting there. The building is in need of renovation as the previous owner neglected it for years. We are vacating the units to renovate all of them including new landscaping, windows, and mechanical systems.

Eisenstein did not immediately respond to questions about the fair housing complaint or why he did not attend the meeting.

In Eisenstein’s absence, a group of about 20 neighbors discussed the project and what role the very active town watch might play in a project that, for some, brings up concerns of gentrification.

Over the years, West Mt. Airy has become an in-demand neighborhood and currently has a base of affluent residents.

“We could not afford to buy our house now and our neighborhood has changed substantially since we moved in 10 years ago,” said Phillip Seitz. ” There are fewer people of color. There are fewer gay couples. It’s a much whiter neighborhood than it used to be.”

Near the close of the meeting, four neighbors agreed to reach out to both Eisenstein and apartment tenants in an effort to fully understand the project and how residents will be affected by the renovation and, as Stroiman put it, “bridge a lack of trust” between the two parties.

“The developer has blown the opportunity to meet with these people,” said Seitz, who is part of that quartet. “Now it’s been set up as an adversarial situation.”

Two potential remedies were suggested during the meeting. The first was to give current tenants priority when it comes to renting the newly designed apartments. The second is to cap rent prices for the those currently living at the apartments.

Some residents, though, weren’t convinced that the town watch needed to get involved given that no one has reached out to that end.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.