Nonprofit developer Community Ventures pushing for more affordable housing

Posted: July 28, 2014

David La Fontaine is the new executive director of Community Ventures, a Quaker-inspired builder of affordable housing and one of the few nonprofit developers left in the city.

Its latest projects include Ingersoll Commons at 16th and Master Streets, affordable housing with open green space, and Centennial Village, affordable rental apartments behind the Mann Music Center at 52d Street and Parkside Avenue.

La Fontaine is pushing for more affordable housing, even as million-dollar homes keep popping up around Center City.

His goal? "Beauty. I don't want to build low-income housing unless it's super-attractive. I want to build things that are beautiful."

Affordable housing, La Fontaine said, "is under attack by the federal government; funding is drying up."

Most is built by the private market now, and nonprofits may not survive in the current real estate boomlet, he said. "We might all have to change."

Community Ventures' development behind the Mann is expected to break ground in 2015. Centennial Village will offer 52 units and more than 7,000 square feet of commercial space.

The West Parkside location, in Mayor Nutter's old Council district, occupies both sides of 52d between Columbia and Parkside Avenues. The city budgeted almost $3 million in Neighborhood Transformation Initiative funds to acquire properties on 52d and adjacent blocks.

The $19 million Centennial Village project received tax credits in February. "We got an award . . . totaling $13 million, and that's the major subsidy for low-income rentals," La Fontaine said.

PNC Bank is a partner and is purchasing the tax credit.

Designed by KSK Architects Planners Historians, Centennial Village's market-rate apartments are expected to rent for $700 to $800 a month for family units, and as little as $100 for handicapped and senior tenants.

A community park fronting 5200 Parkside will be renovated with the Parkside Association of Philadelphia, which will get a new office as part of the deal. A former bar on Parkside Avenue will be renovated into apartments and retail space.

La Fontaine hopes concertgoers from the Mann are drawn into the neighborhood before and after shows, rather than just coming and going in their cars: "We want to draw the Mann into Parkside and vice versa."

Quaker roots inspire Community Ventures' projects, he said.

"Our founder was a Quaker, I'm a Quaker, we're in the Quaker office building" at 15th and Cherry Streets - the "Quaker Kremlin," he joked, housing groups such as the American Friends Service Committee.

He also promotes environmentally friendly development. The $3 million Ingersoll Commons project, for example, offers 10 homes and a "green streets" design that includes a rain garden for stormwater and a community park managed by the city Water Department and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Also designed by KSK and built by JBL Construction, Ingersoll Commons broke ground July 11.

"This development will help revitalize the community," said City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. "This project demonstrates the success of multiple city departments working together with a private developer to address multiple city needs. New affordable housing, green space and improved stormwater management will improve the quality of life in this neighborhood."

A third project, the $14 million Susquehanna Village, is designed for "passive house" energy efficiency. It will offer 53 units that La Fontaine hopes will help revive the neighborhood near Temple University at North 15th Street and Susquehanna Avenue.

As a nonprofit builder/developer, La Fontaine said, "our mission has been giving voice to neighborhood people. We nearly always have a local partner, a group we work with in the neighborhood, so we don't just build and leave."



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