Developer unveils new plan for Germantown YWCA amid funding concerns

The city selected KBK Enterprises to redevelop the historic property in 2016. But the building remains vacant and blighted.

The YWCA in Germantown.

The YWCA in Germantown. (Bas Slabbers/WHYY)

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A vacant historic property in Germantown may be transformed into a modern mixed-use development with 45 units of affordable housing.

The proposal to redevelop the Germantown YWCA calls for studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments. Plans also feature a landscaped courtyard, outdoor terrace, and a fitness facility. An 18-space parking lot would sit behind the city-owned building on Germantown Avenue, which abuts Vernon Park near the commercial heart of the neighborhood.

“We wanted to make sure the site was dynamic,” said Keith Key, president of KBK Enterprises.

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Key detailed the project during an amicable community meeting held Thursday at Center in the Park. It came roughly seven years after the city first selected the Ohio-based company to revamp the Y, a blighted but beloved neighborhood landmark that residents desperately want to see redeveloped.

KBK’s original plan for the four-story property was rooted in workforce housing, a lesser-known tier of affordable housing for more middle-income residents that requires fewer public subsidies to finance. Key said he changed course partially in response to shifting neighborhood economics.

“The neighborhood is going to change fast, and sometimes that scares people because that means gentrification to a lot of people, if not racially, economically. This is at least something that becomes a placeholder that allows people to stay in the neighborhood,” Key said after the meeting.

The new project would be affordable to residents earning up to 60% of the area median income, a statistic that includes places outside of Philadelphia. That translates to about $48,000 for an individual, according to federal income guidelines.

The property would have five ADA-compliant apartments for tenants with very low incomes. KBK hopes to secure project-based housing vouchers for those units, said Key, who grew up in public housing in Pittsburgh.

Key’s company is applying for low-income housing tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. Key said he will also seek funding from the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, the massive bond-backed program initiated by Council President Darrell Clarke to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing, revive commercial corridors, and improve neighborhood infrastructure, among other priorities.

The price tag for the project, which would also have some commercial space, is expected to be $18 million. If everything goes according to plan, construction would start in the fall of 2024 and take about a year to compete.

“I feel pretty confident about it,” said Key about securing funding. “It’s a matter of putting the work in and time for the applications.”

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‘Where we need to be’

But it’s unclear if KBK will get the opportunity to follow through on its plans for the YWCA.

Under the terms of a reservation letter, the company has just over two weeks to demonstrate it has the necessary funding to restore the property. If it can’t, and the letter expires, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has the option to cut ties with KBK.

The agency didn’t take that route at the end of May, when a separate but similar reservation letter expired. But it did previously remove KBK from the project.

Roughly two years ago, the city terminated KBK’s contract after a group of residents pressured the redevelopment authority to change course. The neighbors argued that KBK had failed to show it had the financial capacity to follow through on its proposal, and that the city should solicit a new round of bids from developers.

The redevelopment authority planned to release a new request for proposal last summer, but never did. Officials told residents the agency couldn’t solicit another round of bids because it was still addressing concerns raised by City Councilmember Cindy Bass, according to an email exchange obtained by WHYY News.

What’s more, Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration said the agency couldn’t proceed without Bass’ cooperation, which is needed to move the project forward. City Council must pass a resolution for the redevelopment authority to transfer the building’s ownership to KBK or any other developer. Under the tradition of councilmanic prerogative, Bass would need to introduce the measure.

Bass has repeatedly claimed the city discriminated against KBK, a Black-owned company. She has also said the PRA falsely told the company the project required historical tax credits to be completed, and that the company never had process access to the site. The authority disputes those claims.

Bass took several minutes at the start of Thursday’s meeting to reiterate some of those claims, but said she would support finding a new developer if KBK is unable to move forward with the project.

In the meantime, Bass told residents she believes in KBK’s ability to get the project done.

“Based on this presentation, based on our conversations, we’re where we need to be. The project is proceeding,” Bass said. “We’re at the point where we can see the project moving forward now. The train is getting ready to leave the station. So this is not the moment to switch gears.”

While several residents raised concerns about parking, neighbors appeared largely supportive of KBK’s plans to bring affordable housing to the YWCA — if the company can secure the necessary funding and collaborate with the community as the project moves forward.

“What I really want to see is a true commitment to the community like he says, and regular communication with us regarding where they are in the process. It’s been very frustrating these last six years getting any information out of them,” said Julie Stapleton-Carroll, president emeritus of Germantown United CDC.

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