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The Opposite of Gentrification

Jumpstart Germantown, brainchild of developer Ken Weinstein, trains local residents to be their own community developers

Jumpstart Germantown, brainchild of developer Ken Weinstein, trains local residents to be their own community developers

In January of last year, the double lot at the corner of Chew and Meehan Avenues in Germantown housed in one half B&E Ingram Lounge, a bar that had long since become a nuisance in the neighborhood, and in the other half an abandoned shell of a home that could boast neither permanent occupants nor windows. The building was an eyesore, the bar and its customers a headache, and neighbors wanted the whole thing knocked down.

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In the traditional timeline of gentrification in neighborhoods like Germantown, this is when a developer would level the lot, build new construction, and sell or rent it to the highest bidder, likely a young white couple with bachelor’s degrees.

But in the case of 6812 Chew Avenue, this isn’t what happened.

Instead, an electrical contractor named Jordan Parisse-Ferrarini, who was born and raised in neighboring Mt. Airy and currently lives in Germantown, purchased both lots. He had recently graduated from a real estate development program called Jumpstart Germantown, and with the help of the mentor the program had assigned him and the more than $300,000 loan it had provided, he remodeled the entire building. He did eventually sell the residential half of the building—it was on the market for only 72 hours—but converted the other half into a permanent community learning center for his own nonprofit: Trades for a Difference, a construction and entrepreneurial training program for young Germantown residents.

“We wanted to create vehicles for prosperity for our community members,” says Parisse-Ferrarini. “We want to educate them to elevate the development that’s happening around them so that they’re not just standing on the sidelines.”

Jumpstart Germantown has graduated 235 people—60 more will graduate in April—and has more than 300 people on its wait list. No previous development experience or evidence of financial means is required, and the majority of participants have completed between zero and five rehab projects upon entering the program.

Jumpstart Germantown, the nonprofit organization that supported Parisse-Ferrarini before and through this project, has much the same goal. The organization provides training, mentoring, and financial backing to local residents like Parisse-Ferrarini in an effort to remove blight from and revitalize the Germantown neighborhood without the traditional outcomes of gentrification: the pushing out of long-time residents as a result of skyrocketing housing costs.

Ken Weinstein, President of PhillyOfficeRetail and Jumpstart’s Founder, says he started the project because he simply did not have the time to get coffee with every person in Philadelphia interested in getting their foot in the proverbial real estate door. “I was overwhelmed with people asking to meet with me to hear more about how I got started in real estate development and how they should get started,” he says. “Meeting with them one-on-one an hour at a time just wasn’t helping them.”

Listen to Jumpstart Germantown developer Ken Weinstein on WURD’s Reality Check in CitizenCast:

 

So when people called or emailed, he started saying no. Instead, he put what he knew into a nine-hour curriculum and opened up applications for those interested. In the past three years, 630 people have applied—certainly more than Weinstein would have had the time to take to lunch.

Jumpstart Germantown has graduated 235 people—60 more will graduate in April—and has more than 300 people on its wait list. No previous development experience or evidence of financial means is required, and the majority of participants have completed between zero and five rehab projects upon entering the program.

During the training, Weinstein and PhillyOfficeRetail staff cover seven steps in real estate development, all the way from sourcing the property to managing it once the renovation is complete. He also shares with them how he came to be the President of a major real estate development company and to own successful commercial properties like the Trolley Car Diner in Mount Airy—and how it all, quite comically, began in Philadelphia’s gentrification poster-child: Fishtown.

“I started in real estate development almost 30 years ago. I was living in Fishtown at the time, but it was the old Fishtown,” he laughs. “I was really inspired by my landlady. She had renovated six properties with her own two hands. I thought, ‘How cool is that? I want to do that.’”

While Parisse-Ferrarini already had ample contracting and construction experience prior to participating in Jumpstart Germantown, he had never taken on a project on his own. “It gave me an understanding of the intricacies and nuances of real estate investment,” he explains. “It taught me what was a good deal, what wasn’t, and how to find one.”

After completing the training, participants are assigned a mentor to guide them through rehab projects, often business partners of Weinstein’s or current or retired developers he met through word of mouth. Bob Kaufman, a partner in PhillyOfficeRetail and a volunteer mentor for Jumpstart, says the mentoring piece of the program is intentionally personalized, as participants bring varying levels of experience to the table. “Some people have wanted me to look at vacant properties they’re considering buying, while others have asked for support with basic research on who owns properties,” he says. “We might talk through options about renovations and construction budgets, or consider the strategy question of are you going to fix up to sell or fix up to maintain and rent it out and continue to market it as an asset that you own.”

Participants also have the option of applying for a loan through Jumpstart. Borrowers must put up 15 percent of the project cost, and Jumpstart lends the remaining 85 percent. While the interest rate on the loans is higher than a loan from a traditional bank, no credit check is required for a buy and sell project and loans are approved quickly to allow borrowers to compete with wealthier developers with cash on hand. Jumpstart has closed on 70 loans in the past two and a half years, each ranging from $40,000 to $500,000 and totaling more than $7,000,000. The income generated from the loan half of the program has paid for the training costs, and Weinstein says it has become an essentially break-even operation.

“Gentrification is a real problem in a lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia because you want to improve a neighborhood, but you don’t want to displace people who have lived there for years,” Weinstein says. “By training local residents to invest in their own neighborhood, we’re creating wealth locally. The nest eggs stay local.”

About half of the loans Jumpstart has provided have been for buy and sell projects, while the other half have been buy and hold, in which the developer keeps the property and rents it out. Weinstein says this is a balance that Jumpstart shoots for and is proud of, as a neighborhood with all rental properties or all homeowners can indicate a clustering of income level, and thus a trending toward gentrification, something the organization works against.

“Gentrification is a real problem in a lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia because you want to improve a neighborhood, but you don’t want to displace people who have lived there for years,” he says. “By training local residents to invest in their own neighborhood, we’re creating wealth locally. The nest eggs stay local.” Throughout his career in real estate development, Weinstein says he has worked to avoid this displacement while still beautifying and improving quality of life in Philadelphia’s lower-income neighborhoods.

Jumpstart does this by avoiding urban renewal, or the razing of multiple properties that has historically taken homes away from low-income residents. Instead, Jumpstart encourages in its curriculum scattered site rehab, or the renovation of already vacant properties. In addition, the low barrier for entry for the training and loan program encourages those of all incomes and, particularly, local residents to participate.

“It’s kind of the thing that is remarkable about Jumpstart Germantown: It’s a really broad mix of people,” Kaufman says. “One, in terms of experience and two, in terms of demographics; it’s not all white men. Everyone involved wants to have a tie to Germantown.”

Jumpstart’s training focuses on residential real estate and does not purposely encourage graduates to pursue projects like Parisse-Ferrarini’s Trades for a Difference, but the inspiration of like-minded projects could amplify the impact of the model and further involve residents in their own community’s development.

Over the span of his 30-year career in real estate, Weinstein has also dabbled in government and social change more broadly—he graduated from Penn with a master’s in government administration, has served as chief of staff to a former City Council member, and launched Wage Change in 2017 to push local businesses to commit to raising their own minimum wage to $11. But roads have always led him back to Germantown, the neighborhood he decided to start his real estate career in more than 30 years ago.

Weinstein hopes that other neighborhoods, both in Philadelphia and nationally, will utilize Jumpstart’s community development model to improve their own neighborhoods while maintaining local history and integrity. The model is already being replicated in Kensington, where a trifecta of social impact organizations—Shift Capital, New Kensington CDC, and Impact Services—are leading the charge. Weinstein has also spoken with developers from Camden to New Orleans about starting a Jumpstart program in their own neighborhoods.

“I always joke that I get to retire when every vacant property in Philadelphia has been renovated,” Weinstein says. “But I can’t do it all by myself, so I’m hoping Jumpstart people can help me meet my goal.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article misstated the amount that JumpStart has loaned so far; it is $7 million. It also misstated Ken Weinstein’s role in the organization; he is its founder.

Photo taken after the 400th application to the Jumpstart Germantown Mentoring Program was submitted. Photo via Jumpstart Germantown Developers' Network Facebook

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