Replicating a Model of Workforce Housing for Teachers

Located in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, Oxford Mills is a $37.8 million historic rehabilitation and conversion of two former industrial buildings to a mixed-use property with 114 apartments and 38,000 square feet of commercial/office space. Ninety of the apartments are rented to residents earning up to 80 percent AMI, with 68 of those reserved for area teachers. The remaining 24 apartments are rented at market rates. The space is designed and programmed to be a supportive environment for educators.

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The collaborative, education-centered model for Oxford Mills replicates Union Mill and Miller’s Court in Baltimore as similar successful historic rehabilitation projects. Seawall Development’s Donald Manekin developed this model based on his experience as a board member for Teach for America and a two-year stint as interim chief operating officer of the Baltimore school system. Based in Baltimore, Seawall Development partnered with another private developer, D3 Development out of Philadelphia, to launch the model there.

The Oxford Mills project benefited substantially from historic rehabilitation tax credits and $34 million in federal New Market Tax Credits allocations from sources such as the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, Enterprise Social Investment Corporation, and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation. TD Bank was the equity investor for the full NMTC allocation and provided the majority of the remaining financing, including $17.8 million in term debt and $6.3 million in historic tax credit equity. Oxford Mills also benefited from a $500,000 loan from an angel investor with a commitment to socially responsible development.

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The South Kensington neighborhood was historically a working class, industrial area that was a center of the textile industry. As manufacturing moved elsewhere in the latter half of the 20th century, many of the large brick factories became vacant and derelict. The two Oxford Mills buildings, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, originally were home to the Quaker City Dye Works. The property had defaulted mortgages and was under foreclosure when D3 acquired it.

The rehabilitation of the historic Oxford Mills manufacturing buildings sought to retain many of their vintage features. The apartments have been renovated in an open, modern style, with restored original hardwood floors, exposed brick, large windows, 14-foot ceilings, wood columns and timber framing. Units for income-qualified residents are indistinguishable from the market-rate units.

The residential apartments offer a variety of amenities, particularly for teachers. Market-rate rents for the one- and two-bedroom apartments at Oxford Mills range from $1345 to $1995; teachers receive a $200 – $400 monthly discount on these rents, depending on the apartment. The qualification for teacher eligibility is done on an honor system. The 40,000 square feet of office space is rented at below-market rates to educational nonprofits and small start-ups.

The renovation of Oxford Mills is more than the mixed-use rehabilitation of two historic buildings. It also has sought to cultivate a sense of community for educators, offering related social and professional programming and events.

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