Types of Homes

If Philadelphia is a city of row houses, the Kensington neighborhood certainly follows suit. Row houses outnumber all other types of housing in Philadelphia, mainly for their space- and cost-efficiencies. This was especially crucial in a time when the city experienced rapid industrial growth. While the benefits of row house construction and living have had their impact on the city, it is also true that as certain neighborhoods age, the maintenance of row houses is crucial. Abandonment and neglect lead to loss of value, affecting not just the neighborhood landscape but also adjoining units.

In 2003, the City of Philadelphia commissioned a Comprehensive Preservation Assessment wherein three distinct eras of growth were identified. Each era was known for a distinctive style of row house, and each style could be attributed to the city’s diverse neighborhoods, both old and new.

The Kensington area can be distinguished its colonial and early 19th century row houses. The most modest of these (the Trinity, Bandbox, Father Son & Holy Ghost) could be between 400-600 sq. ft., featuring one entry way, a winder staircase, and no running water. These were typically found mid-block with no street front. Larger variations (from 1,000-1,800 sq. ft.) would feature three stories plus a basement level, a gable roof, fireplaces, and a rear yard. These were known as the Double Trinity and London House. The most extravagant floor plans would include as many as four stories, but would tend to be narrower and boast a deeper extension. These, known as Federal or George Town Houses, could be anywhere from 3,000-7,000 sq. ft.

As we examine the differences in the evolution of the Kingstown area compared to the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area, it is important to understand how both neighborhoods had the same origins in domestic construction. While they surely fit in with the backdrop of the city as a whole, they shared a distinctive style of the traditional Philadelphia row how. As time progressed, the neighborhoods emerged with distinctive home values, home ownership patterns, home types that would imply an ever-divergent housing landscape that can be observed even as recently as the last decade.

Housing Characteristics

The table below provides data comparing the basic housing statistics between zip codes 19125 and 19134 in 2000. Based on the data, the housing in the New Kensington area is generally older than the homes found in the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area. About 90% of the Kensington homes were built before 1960 compared to just 55% of the Fishtown/Olde Richmond homes. There was more variety in the types of homes found in 19125, as nearly 76% of the homes were either single-unit detached or attached dwellings. In the 19134 zip code, over two-thirds of the homes were attached. In both neighborhoods, residents at that time had moved in between 1981 and 2000, each at a rate of over 70%.

Area Code



includes Fishtown

includes Kensington

Single-family owner-occupied units



Median value



Median Mortgage



Owner Costs Burden



Median Rent



Renter Costs Burden



Move-in pre-1980



Move-in 1981-2000



Built pre-1960



Built 1961-1990



1-unit, detached



1-unit, attached



Utility Gas






Fuel, oil, kerosene, etc.



Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 3 (sf 3) – Sample Data, access via Census.gov

The median value of the homes in 19125 was higher by $7,500. However, compared to Kensington proper, the Fishtown/Olde Richmond rates of single-family owner-occupancy were over half and the median mortgage was nearly double. Median rents are somewhat comparable, falling within $25 range of one another. What is interesting to note between owners and renters of both zip codes is the difference in the burden of costs of living. Generally speaking, any household paying more than 30% of its income for living expenses is considered burdened. In both mortgage and renting situations, the Kensington residents of 19134 were more burdened than their Fishtown/Olde Richmond counterparts (80% compared to 65%).

Fishtown/Olde Richmond


Median owner-occupied home value, 2005-2009



Single-family, detached, 2005-2009



Single-family, attached, 2005-2009



Median amount all loans, 2009



Median loans to whites, 2009



Median loans to African Americans, 2009



Median loans to Hispanics, 2009



Households that own a home, 2010



Homeowners cost-burdened, 2005-2009



Households that rent a home, 2010



Renters cost-burdened, 2005-2009



Households in subsidized housing, 2008



Household move-ins 2000 – present, 2005-2009



Vacant residential units, 2010



Data Set: Policy Map, access via UPenn Libraries

Data from 2009 and 2010 provide a very different story from the 2000 Census findings. The most obvious difference between the neighboring areas is that of the median values of the homes. The Fishtown/Olde Richmond neighborhood’s median home values more than double that of their Kensington counterparts. The former area also boasts a higher percentage of home owners and a lower percentage of renters compared to Kensington. The difference in percentage is almost exactly inversed for each category. Similar to 2000, both home owners and renters in the Fishtown/Olde Richmond neighborhood are significantly less burdened in costs of living expenses. In Kensington, more than 40% of home owners are cost-burdened, and that proportion jumps to nearly two-thirds of all Kensington renters.  Kensington has almost double the percentage of renters living in subsidized housing, as well.

Another finding concerns the types of available housing in each neighborhood, particularly in Fishtown/Olde Richmond. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of single-family homes that are either attached or detached increased from 76% to 91%. This suggests a considerable degree of development or redevelopment in the time that lapsed. Other types of housing, including multi-family units, may have decreased to make way for more detached home and row house construction, more likely the latter. This can be concluded by looking at the dramatic decrease in percentage of detached homes in this time in conjunction with the increase of attached homes. In Kensington proper, the percentages of single-family detached and attached dwellings has remained static over the decade.

In both neighborhoods, the decade since 2000 has seen tremendous household turnover. Fishtown/Olde Richmond and Kensington, alike, have experience a move-in rate of just over 50% since 2000. Vacancies are also important to note. Residential vacancies hover at around 4% for the Fishtown region, while they inch closer to 7% in the Kensington area.

In considering these most recent years, it is necessary to recall the impact of the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis that impacted our economy and households across the nation in 2008. It is helpful to understand where Philadelphia, and Kensington, fit into that larger framework.

Subprime Lending & Foreclosures

Foreclosed properties and their links to the collapse of the subprime lending market have been recurring issues in the recovery of local housing market and economic recovery overall. Philadelphia’s residents were no exception when it came to resisting the allure of subprime loan packages that catered to low-income, low-credit rating borrowers with higher, often adjustable, interest rates. Upon the system’s collapse, Philadelphia has also been no exception.

While Philadelphia, on average, falls barely within the top half of metropolitan areas in its foreclosure percentage (4.9% of all properties), it has a much higher average of subprime foreclosures (21.5% of all foreclosures) than others.

Based on estimates prepared by the Urban Institute and Local Initiatives Support Corporation, an analysis of the level of foreclosure risk based on the vacancy levels and rates of subprime mortgages in communities has been developed. While the map below gives the risk level for the greater Philadelphia/New Jersey region, it is possible to focus in on both Philadelphia and the Kensington area. Central Philadelphia, in general, has risk ranging from moderate-high to highest. A magnified look at the Kensington neighborhood shows that, as of the 4th quarter of 2010, the risk is at the highest level.

A second map shows the first indicator of foreclosure risk when combined with market strength. The combination of these two indicators provides an idea how a particular region may be able to sustain or even rebound in the case of overwhelming foreclosure rates. Again, Philadelphia is shown to be in a precarious position, as the majority of its neighborhoods are high risk with weak to moderate markets. Kensington is again shown to be on the lowest extreme of the scale.

While this information provides a basis of comparison for the greater Philadelphia metro region, it also highlights the vulnerability of a largely low-income neighborhood such Kensington. It suggests that Kensington may be slower to recover from the difficulties arousing out of the home credit market. Also, the only way to strengthen the market and decrease foreclosure risk may depend on the availability and eligibility of residents for prime rate mortgages.

Works Cited

“Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, Office of Housing & Community Development. Philadelphia City Planning Commission. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“Policy Brief: Foreclosure Risk and the Philadelphia Region: The Continuing Saga.” Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“Report: Subprime Lending in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Region.” Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.


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