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Topic Housing

For more than 30 years, real estate developer Ken Weinstein has focused his efforts on improving the Germantown neighborhood in the northwest section of Philadelphia. He saw a need—and he fell in love with the architecture and community.

In recent years, though, Weinstein took notice that too many other Philadelphia neighborhoods had lacked investment for years.

“I just knew we needed to turn that around,” Weinstein said. “And the best way to improve Philadelphia’s communities with less displacement and gentrification is with local people developing locally.”

That’s the idea behind Jumpstart Philly, a training course and loan program he created in 2015. First-time investors that enroll in the course, whom he calls “Jumpstarters,” receive about 12 hours of training, a mentor, networking opportunities—and loans to finance the acquisition and renovation of up to three residential properties. The process is similar to a bank loan, which helps prepare Jumpstarters for acquiring funding for future projects.

Weinstein calls the process of real estate development “nothing short of addicting.” And, given the right resources, he knew he could ignite that same passion in others.

For Tabitha Giddens, it was a passion she didn’t know she had. Working as a supervisor at Philadelphia Family Court, she heard about Jumpstart through a co-worker who had signed up. Tabitha wasn’t sure she was interested but agreed to go for moral support.

“I found Jumpstart truly by accident,” said Giddens. “And I’ll admit, I figured there was a catch. With this business, there always seems to be a catch.”

What Giddens found was the opposite of what she was expecting. She was intrigued by Weinstein; impressed that a successful developer was taking time to help people with no experience. Struck by how easy and straightforward the program was, she decided to take it seriously. Giddens graduated, secured her first loan, and went shopping for her first property—eventually landing on a rowhome in the Carroll Park section of West Philadelphia.

According to Weinstein, women and people of color have traditionally been grossly underrepresented in real estate development both in Philadelphia and nationally. He’s seen pent up frustration from people who want to get into the industry, but don’t see a place for themselves. He believes that’s why, organically, more than 85% of Jumpstart graduates are women and people of color.

“I always thought of investing in real estate as a man’s job,” said Giddens. “But as an African-American woman, I feel extremely empowered by Jumpstart. This is something bigger than I ever dreamed or experienced. And I did this myself. I don’t need to stand in the background anymore.”

Though it originated in Germantown, Jumpstart Philly currently operates in eight Philadelphia neighborhoods, due in part to $3 million in loan support from Reinvestment Fund in 2019.

“Jumpstart Philly gives people the tools and the capital to effect their own change,” said Andy Rachlin, Managing Director for Reinvestment Fund. “We hope that what we’ll see with this investment is a new generation of entrepreneurs building and earning and growing wealth in their own communities.”

Jumpstart Philly is off to a good start in fulfilling that goal. To date, the program has 1,200 graduates and has provided more than 160 loans, with a total of more than $17.2 million. The result has been more than 170 rehabbed properties across Philadelphia.

Jumpstart Philly’s focus is on preserving Philadelphia’s rowhome stock. Jumpstarters focus on “scattered site rehab,” which rehabilitates blighted properties rather than knocking them down, an approach commonly referred to as “urban renewal.” The result is lower gentrification and displacement.

“I’m a big believer in reusing what already exists before building new. It just makes sense with so many blighted properties that we should rehab what we already have,” said Weinstein.

Weinstein is already seeing the benefit of Jumpstart’s work citywide, albeit slowly.

“We’ve fallen behind eight ball and disinvestment in neighborhoods, and it’s going to take a while before blight is gone,” said Weinstein. “But as the result of our work, we’re seeing streets that used to have two or three blighted properties that are now fully renovated. If Jumpstarters hadn’t jumped in, that might have turned into six blighted properties. Our program helps by moving things in the right direction instead of falling behind, and that leads to a significant increase in quality of life for area residents.”

The tide may be turning slowly in Philadelphia, but for graduates like Tabitha Giddens, the results have been immediate and transformative.

“I thought I’d be at the courthouse forever. But I have goals now. I’m hoping to make an empire,” she said. “Bottom line, Jumpstart Philly shifted my dreams in a way I never thought possible.”

Although Jumpstart Philly is suffering from the impact of COVID on in-person engagement—and on the real estate market—it is adapting to the current circumstances. Hundreds have joined “Jumpinars,” mini training sessions via Zoom, and while most banks have slowed or stopped lending until the effects of the pandemic are known, Jumpstart has continued to lend. After little to no loan demand in April, Jumpstart Philly has seen a significant uptick in May, signifying to Weinstein that people are ready to get back to improving their communities and creating a nest egg for their families.

“Our mission is too important to slow down when aspiring real estate developers need Jumpstart training, networking and loans the most,” said Weinstein. “And now’s the time to support slow, steady growth in Philadelphia’s middle neighborhoods.”

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