Report: Center City housing rebounds to pre-pandemic levels, defying expectations

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Fears that residents would abandon city life, after suffering through the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic, were largely unfounded — at least in Philadelphia. The demand for housing in Center City remains strong, according to a recent report from the Center City District.

Paul Levy, Center City District president, remembers the genuine fear, in the darkest days of COVID-19 isolation measures, that no one in the future would choose to live in the smaller indoor and outdoor spaces that distinguish homes in the city’s core.

"There were a depressing couple of months when we said, 'Oh my God, is the downtown done?'" Levy said. "And what is so remarkable is how things have come back, how investor confidence is strong."

Property sales and rentals did decline in 2020, according to Levy, but it turned out to be temporary.

"A lot of college students returning to their parents' homes," he said, "and a lot of people who had second homes, going to those homes."

The report shows sales rebounded in 2021 by 52%. Sales volume and prices outpaced that of pre-pandemic 2019. Rents also rose in 2021, and multi-family vacancies dropped from 12% to 7% — even as new construction skyrocketed from 5,000 units to 17,000 units.

Even with the price increases, the report finds, Philadelphia remains one of the most affordable of the 30 largest cities in the United States.

"Given all the anxiety," Levy said, "to find so much good news about Center City’s residential growth, I think, is a positive thing at this moment."

And yet, affordability remains a problem for the city, because of the prevalence of low incomes among residents.

Levy acknowledges many challenges remain but says the report should provide some reassurance.

"Every bit of good news in Philadelphia needs to be balanced against the remaining challenges we have," Levy said, "but those challenges, I think, don’t cancel what has been a remarkable story."

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