Design group is catalyst for critical community project

 Southwest Gateway Housing conceptual design (image via Community Design Collaborative)

Southwest Gateway Housing conceptual design (image via Community Design Collaborative)

A non-profit design collaborative could make a big difference for a Philadelphia community in need of housing for its aging population. 

In Southwest Philadelphia, the burgeoning Center City skyline is just visible on the edge of the horizon. In this neighborhood of  modest rowhouses, the Southwest Community Development Corporation, or CDC, helps residents with everything from job searches, signing up for utility bill assistance, and after school programs.

Now, in the midst of those details of day-to-day life, they’re looking into the future, with the project “Southwest Gateway Housing.” Steve Kuzmicki, Economic Development Program Manager at Southwest, CDC says it all started when they identified a segment of the population with a specific need.

“We have a large number of seniors in the southwest,” he said. “A lot of them are living in aging homes that have barriers – steps, things like that, that they can’t navigate that well. The biggest need and demand was for affordable housing for seniors. And then the issue of grandparents who are raising grandchildren, which we’ve learned is a big need here.”

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Kuzmicki had been eying two city-owned lots at 63rd Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, a major intersection leading into the neighborhood. He and his colleagues felt it would be the perfect spot for a block of affordable, accessible senior apartments. 

They could get the city to donate the lots. Both Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania state government have construction funding. But a lot of planning would need to go on before breaking ground.

“We fill that gap,” said Heidi Levy, Director of Design Services at the Community Design Collaborative. “Historically there has not been funding for preliminary design, the first ten to fifteen percent of a project when a community is trying to envision what they want to build. We create that vision, put it on paper, get them ready to go after funding and community support.”

The Collaborative provides pro bono design services to about two dozen neighborhood projects each year. For Southwest CDC’s Gateway Housing Project, this amounted to a donation of nearly $90,000.

With a completed design in hand to present to funders and developers, the Southwest Community Development Corporation aims to break ground as early as next summer.

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