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Whitman/Pennsport neighborhoods see new affordable housing complex for seniors

In development since 2011, Cantrell Place meets what stakeholders say is a critical need for quality, affordable housing for seniors in South Philadelphia.

An exterior shot of Cantrell Place | Photo by Tom Beck

City officials and representatives from Presby’s Inspired Life, a not-for-profit, faith-based organization that provides care and affordable housing for seniors, gathered at 5th and Cantrell Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the opening of Cantrell Place, a 61-unit affordable housing community for those 62 and older (or as Presby’s called it, “62 and better”). The building is sponsored by Presby’s Inspired Life. Among the city officials who spoke were City Councilman Mark Squilla, former state Rep. Bill Keller and City Representative Sheila Hess.

“It’s something that’s a real need in our community,” said Hess. “Not just for affordable housing for seniors but they’re accessible as well, and that’s a key component to what these apartments are all about and knowing that you’re 100 percent occupied.”

In development since 2011, Cantrell Place meets what stakeholders say is a critical need for quality, affordable housing for seniors in South Philadelphia. A portion of the apartments were set aside for homeless and mobility- and sensory-impaired seniors.

According to the city’s Housing Action Plan, the city will need 19,000 new units of affordable housing over the next 10 years to be able to house renters in need.

“There is a housing crisis in the city of Philadelphia, and no group is more impacted by this crisis than seniors,” said Judee M. Bavaria, president and CEO of Presby’s Inspired Life. “It is estimated that the older adult population is set to outpace millennials over the next decade, and we know that affordable, quality housing is at a premium. Not many developers are responding to this need with more urgency than Presby’s Inspired Life.”

The complex cost $16.5 million to build, according to Presby’s Executive Director of Development Vidhi Anderson. Some $2.2 million worth of the funding total came from the city.

Anderson lauded Squilla’s effort in making the complex a reality.

“With this project, we see first hand the councilman’s belief that bringing together the best of each community and creating new partnerships along the way is crucial to Philadelphia’s success,” she said. “Councilman Squilla has been a true advocate here in the city and in Harrisburg as well. Twenty-four hours a week, seven days a week, he remained accessible through this project, picking up the phone with four encouraging words: ‘How can I help?’ ”

The apartments are awarded to seniors on a first-come first-serve basis, assuming they meet the income requirements. All of the apartments are allotted to residents who make either 20, 50 or 60 percent of the neighborhood’s area median income. As a result, that means residents need have an annual income of only $12,200, $30,600 or $36,720 to live in a unit. (Different units are allotted for different AMIs. They all have the same layout, however.)

“As you hear about gentrification and neighborhoods changing, we need to make sure we can have our seniors and the people who live in those communities to be able to stay in those communities until they decide they want to leave, not be pushed out of those neighborhoods,” Squilla said. “[Seniors who live in the complex] don’t have to worry about assessments going up, they don’t have to worry about the taxes and the other things that go on within the city.”

The housing complex is located in Mayor Jim Kenney’s former neighborhood.

“I’m very pleased that there will be affordable housing options for seniors in the neighborhood where I spent my childhood,” said Kenney. “The grand opening of Cantrell Place will make it that much easier for longtime residents to remain in their neighborhoods, which is a priority of our Housing Action Plan. I’m thankful for the work of Presby’s Inspired Life in providing access to housing for those who need it most.”

Presby’s portfolio includes 36 affordable housing communities in the greater Philadelphia region, many of which have wait lists twice, sometimes triple, the number of units available. Presby was awarded tax-credit funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency in July 2016 to develop Cantrell Place. The developer is Domus.

“Cantrell Place is one example of how we are fulfilling a critical need for quality affordable housing for older adults in Philadelphia,” Bavaria added, “and we are able to do this with help from local officials and organizations, like Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

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