Bob Stevenson has taken on a new project to revitalize his old neighborhood of North Philadelphia and his efforts may become a boon for Temple students.
About a year and half ago, Stevenson created a company, University Property Management, to stop urban sprawl and fight urban blight. He chose North Philadelphia as his first project, having grown up in the area and watched two daughters graduate from Temple.
“I remember what it was like growing up in the communities around here. I want to make the neighborhoods better and safer, increase the property value and change the run-down area,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson, now a resident of Bucks County, seeks out private owners and buys dilapidated buildings within a two to three block radius of the University. He then aims to change the character of the homes, not only increasing their appeal, but their safety as well.
Stevenson’s social awareness may be the opportunity many Temple students without campus housing need. He hopes to eventually make the houses available for students but said safety concerns regarding the neighborhood would probably quell any interest.
For $325 a month per student, a typical apartment consists of six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Designed for a college student, each also has central air, dual control thermostats with gas and water heaters, cable and the Internet. Stevenson has instituted an eight-person limit per apartment.
“The baby boomers’ babies are here now. They need places available beyond the dorm life. They need to live in the real world, get jobs, and possibly stay around to see the improvement of the neighborhood,” said Stevenson.
While there are currently no Temple students staying in any of Stevenson’s apartments, he hopes to see that change in the coming years. Stevenson believes that community growth will stem from the University.
His only renters are residents from the area.
The project is privately funded Stevenson said he has spent $170,000 revamping each of his 10 properties, and University Property Management has yet to make a profit. He does not see himself as the typical landlord and hopes his approach will create interest in his properties.
“I want to make sure everyone is taken care of immediately,” Stevenson said, believing that word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising.
In the past, lenders refused to give money to residents of the area. Stevenson’s properties are playing the real estate role of comparison. If structured and mortgaged, the properties would seek an increased property value. In turn, other residents can use his property as proof to receive loans.
“A lot of residents love it here and want to revamp the area. Now they can go to the bank and say, ‘see what they have done with a similar property.’ I want to do that too. One by one, this will change the neighborhood,'” Stevenson said.
Stevenson also hopes to change some of the landscape and the look of the buildings, a never-ending battle with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the government ordinances.
One problem that Stevenson faces is safety. The area around Temple University is notorious for its crime, specifically drug-related crimes, such as theft and vandalism. He hopes the revitalization project will help the neighborhoods bounce back from years of deterioration.
“Regardless of where you are you have to be cautious. You could be in Center City, North Philadelphia, the mall or the beach, you just have to be careful,” Stevenson said.
Pooja Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org