Number of new housing units in Center City area hits 5-year high

The benchmark comes as the area continues to see population growth, including an increase in the number of New York transplants.

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Apartment buildings in Center City.

Center City, Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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New data show more new housing units were built in the Center City area in 2023 than in the previous four years; a sign residential construction could continue to rebound from pandemic lows in 2020 and 2021.

The finding is part of the Center City District’s latest housing report, which focuses on a section of Philadelphia the organization refers to as “Greater Center City.” The area — home to roughly 200,000 residents — covers a group of growing and well-heeled neighborhoods sandwiched between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers between Girard Avenue and Tasker Street. The list includes Fairmount, Logan Square, Queen Village and other parts of South Philadelphia.

A total of 2,844 units were completed in the area last year, including some office-to-residential conversions, according to the report. That’s a slight increase over 2022, but a significant jump over 2020 and 2021, when 1,126 and 1,780 units were completed, respectively.

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Another 7,181 units are in the pipeline at a time when shoppers are returning to Center City businesses at near pre-pandemic levels.

“Population growth and housing unit production are much more closely aligned in greater Center City than in the city overall, where we’ve seen housing unit production outpace population growth,” said Clint Randall, the district’s vice president of economic development.

Greater Center City is one of the fastest-growing areas of Philadelphia, increasing 3% over the past four years and 26% since 2011, according to U.S. Census data.

The trend includes transplants from other parts of Pennsylvania but also reflects many people moving from other city neighborhoods or surrounding suburbs. The report found that more New Yorkers relocated to Philadelphia between 2020 and 2023 than in previous years. A notable number of people also moved from Florida, Delaware and Virginia.

And they appear to be staying. Since 2020, more people have moved into the greater Center City area than have moved out, said Lauren Smith, manager of economic development and the report’s author. She said it’s unclear why so many New Yorkers have recently moved to Philly, but she has a hunch.

“Philadelphia in comparison is a lot more affordable, especially when people have a choice to figure out where they want to live in response to remote work,” Smith said. “I think Philadelphia is an attractive place for that, especially because you still have all of the amenities of being a walkable city and also having access to really affordable housing as well.”

As of November 2023, the average rent in greater Center City was $1,996, which sits above the citywide figure. By comparison, the median monthly rent in Manhattan was more than double the average for greater Center City, according to Inhabit.

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The report touches on the issue of affordability, highlighting that nearly half of Philadelphia renters in the city are cost-burdened, meaning more than 30% of their income goes towards paying rent.

“With well-designed public incentives, Philadelphia has the opportunity to add more affordable opportunities within mixed-income developments in Greater Center City, so residents and workers at all education levels can enjoy the amenities and ease of access to 41% of the jobs in Philadelphia,” the report said.

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