Upscale apartments are booming in Philly’s suburbs
Across the suburbs, upscale apartments are going up at an astonishing rate. Nearly 7,000 new units are either in the pipeline or under construction in Phoenixville, Upper Merion, Lower Merion, and West Chester alone. Even more specifically, neighborhoods including King of Prussia, Ardmore, and Bala Cynwyd are seeing unprecedented apartment growth.
“What’s happening out there right now is incredible,” said Michael Perrone, director of West Chester’s building, planning and zoning department. “It’s almost like the reverse phenomenon of the city 10 years ago, when millennials wanted to move into the city. Now, it’s happening in the suburbs.”
Priced from $1,000 a month for a studio to nearly $3,000 for multibedroom units, the new apartments are flooding in as demand increases, observers say. Suburban communities can give apartment hunters what urban life can’t: cheaper taxes, better schools, more square feet per dollar, and walkable downtowns without the city’s hassle.
But along with the changing landscape comes the decades-old debate about gentrification and affordability.
“These [apartments] are immediate good things that are happening,” said Dale Gravett, executive director for the Housing Authority of Chester County. “But it also raises an issue of, OK, what is happening to the man or woman who has a lower-end job but has difficulty finding a place to live?
“Not that the creation of additional units isn’t a wonderful thing,” Gravett continued, “but there are some issues with scarcity of affordable housing.”
For some local officials, developers, and residents, the shift toward high-end rentals marks a necessary change, one that can grow suburban tax bases, boost a town’s attractiveness, and fill a higher-end housing void.
Affordable-housing advocates and other residents wonder whether these towns will forge ahead without them. It’s a question playing out nationally: How do desirable towns make room for everyone?
The metamorphosis of Philadelphia’s suburbs is not unique. As many U.S. cities become wealthier and younger, suburban communities once dominated by single-family dwellings try to compete. Pricier new apartments are a natural follow — spurred by revitalization, as well as rising home prices, millennials who have delayed buying houses, and baby boomers who want to downsize.
Existing apartment complexes, meanwhile, feel pressure to renovate and add amenities, hoping to lure renters.
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