The text message shocked James Wright.
It was a link to an atypical and opaque Zillow listing from a fellow member of the Cobbs Creek Neighbors Association — for a 35-property portfolio in his West Philly neighborhood.
The price tag: $7 million.
Wright had never seen anything like it.
“It just makes me think that things are going to move fast,” said Wright, who chairs the civic’s zoning committee. “It makes me nervous about neighborhood stability.”
While parts of West Philadelphia have changed dramatically over the years, Cobbs Creek has largely maintained its identity. The neighborhood — generally bounded by Market Street, Baltimore Avenue, 52nd Street, and Cobbs Creek — is still primarily made up of Black homeowners with moderate incomes.
To Wright, the posting represents a potential threat to those demographics — to the community his family has called home for nearly 70 years.
“It sends a signal to the development community that this is a neighborhood that you want to look at,” said Wright.
It’s unclear exactly where in Cobbs Creek the 35 homes are located or whether they are all occupied. The listing, posted in early May, only includes a breakdown of the properties by number of bedrooms, and a series of aerial and street-level photos of single-family homes in the neighborhood.
Jeff Block, a realtor with Compass, said all of the homes are rentals owned by a single limited liability company. And that the 35 homes are spread across more than 30 blocks in Cobbs Creek, including the 5500 block of Larchwood Avenue, the 5700 block of Addison Street, and the 5700 block of Pemberton Street.
Block declined to provide a full list or confirm the identity of his out-of-state client. But he insisted that a recent TikTok about the post is “factually inaccurate.”
“This is not like some big swath of properties,” said Block. “It’s not like a whole neighborhood.”
The post is raising eyebrows nonetheless, in part because of the description of the portfolio that appears alongside the photos, which describes Cobbs Creek as a “red hot” and “rapidly improving” West Philadelphia neighborhood.
“All 35 parcels are situated in a tight geographic area ideal for management and enhanced economies of scale. In a red hot neighborhood with some under-valued rents and significant capital appreciation opportunity. If desired, enjoy the flexibility to improve and/or spin-off certain assets and hold the rest,” reads part of the listing.
Large real estate investors are increasingly buying up properties in places like Philadelphia, according to a report published last year by researchers at Drexel University and the Reinvest Fund. Most of the transactions were investors selling to investors.
The trend worries Wright. He fears the properties will be flipped to a corporate investor that doesn’t care about growing the existing neighborhood, only turning a profit.
“It just becomes a living place for people that are transitioning in and out of cities versus people that are trying to raise families, plug into block groups and civic groups, and really support everything that a neighborhood needs to thrive,” said Wright.
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, one of the Council’s fiercest housing advocates, echoed those concerns. In a statement, she said she plans on contacting the owner with hopes of ensuring the sale is “as minimally disruptive to the tenants and Cobbs Creek as possible.”
“The listing is highly concerning and I can understand the angst it’s creating in the community. The fact that it advertises these 35 homes as an “advantageous investment” and “significant capital appreciation” opportunity worries me that this is another example of corporate interests treating homes like nothing more than financial assets. I hope the future owner will give the tenants the consideration and empathy they deserve. These homes are the bedrock of a safe and stable life for 35 families, not just commodities,” she said.
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