Rittenhouse Hill Development Redefining Green in Philadelphia

Rittenhouse Hill is a complete rehabilitation of an existing building in the city’s Germantown neighborhood that will yield a 624-unit rental community.

Philadelphia—Young renters in the City of Brotherly Love face a quandary. On one hand, many can’t afford the high-priced rents at newer downtown apartment communities. On the other, most can’t bear to think of renting on the exurban fringes of the metro area, in nondescript lower-priced rental communities.

What to do? The folks at developer Post Brothers are hoping young renters choose an attractive middle ground at the company’s Rittenhouse Hill. The development is a complete rehabilitation of an existing building in the city’s Germantown neighborhood that will yield a 624-unit rental community featuring a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Ground was broken on Rittenhouse Hill in November 2011, leasing began three months ago, and about 130 apartments have been rented thus far. The development is expected to be complete in May 2013.

What made this the right time and place for Rittenhouse Hill?

“The biggest factor is the lack of high-quality product being delivered to the market,” Mike Pestronk, one of the owners of Philadelphia-based Post Brothers, tells MHN. “There are some very high-end and expensive developments downtown, and some exurban, builders’-grade projects on the fringes of suburbia. But most rent growth in new apartments is from young professionals who don’t want to live in either one of those settings.”

Rittenhouse Hill is the single largest residential community being built in Philadelphia at present, and by far the greenest residential project, Pestronk notes. When complete, it will offer a super high-efficiency building envelope, Energy Star appliances and LED and CFL light bulbs throughout, and a heating and air conditioning system utilizing a high efficiency electric heat pump that will use one-third the energy of the previous system.

The most interesting green aspect of the project is that it will utilize 100 percent wind-generated power for all 624 units.

It is the first residential project of its size in Philadelphia to use this type of renewable energy as sole energy source.

Finally, Post Brothers is installing electric car charging ports so all residents can charge electric cars in the same community where they live.

While Rittenhouse Hill’s green features are among its most newsworthy qualities, they are by no means its only selling points. Another big plus is the location, just 15 minutes northwest of downtown Philadelphia.

“It’s right by the two biggest highways, has very good train access, and very good nightlife and restaurants,” Pestronk says. “And the existing housing stock is beautiful. Much of it has been renovated in the last 20 years. We are not the first to come into Germantown, but we’re the first to do so on such a large scale.”

Post Brothers faced two main challenges in the project. The first was debt financing. “There were no existing apartments in the neighborhood getting the kinds of rents we’re expecting,” Pestronk says. “For us, that was a good thing, but for banks, a deterrent. It took us about six months to get lending.”

The second challenge came from labor unions. “We are our own general contractor, and have been picketed extensively by the construction labor unions in Philadelphia,” Pestronk says.

Rittenhouse Hill’s distinctiveness should be a major lure for renters seeking a different kind of address at rent prices they can afford, Pestronk says. “It’s a completely unique project; there’s nothing else like it,” he adds. “The fact we’ve rented 130 units in just three months, when the work looks anything but complete, speaks to the quality-value proposition of the property.”