Several years ago, the boom of LGBT residents in the East Passyunk Avenue section of South Philadelphia led to its nickname as the “New Gayborhood.” Now, LGBT people are among those gobbling up real estate in gentrifying neighborhoods like Point Breeze and Kensington, as well as in Fishtown, which Paul Fontaine, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach, noted has already quickly surpassed the “up-and-coming” label to become an active and stable neighborhood.
“GLBT tend to be a little more open to ‘developing areas’ as I call them,” Fontaine said. “Either they have vision and like to renovate old, grandma-type homes or they want to get a great value and buy a brand-new or renovated home for a much lower price than the more stable neighborhood next door. It’s all about the flower boxes.”
Travis Rodgers, also a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach, said the river wards’ popularity continues to flourish.
“There’s so much new construction in places like Fishtown and Port Richmond. It’s really exciting. People can really get more bang for their buck and a better price per square footage, with parking,” Rodgers said. “And there’s an amazing lack of inventory in those areas right now. There’s a lot of people all competing for the same couple houses. I just did a search for a couple looking there, and it’s amazing how little there is out there. It’s definitely a really big area right now.”
Rodgers added that, in addition to East Passyunk, he’s also seen great LGBT interest in neighborhoods like Northern Liberties and Newbold.
“We’re so diversified now, we go everywhere,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen many differences among priorities of his LGBT and heterosexual clients. “People both gay and straight are looking for a house with good resale value, in a good neighborhood, with everything close by. We’re all looking for the same thing: We want to feel comfortable and safe and feel like we have good people around us.”
But LGBT people finding those needs met in areas outside of the Gayborhood doesn’t necessarily point to a decrease in the appeal of the Gayborhood, Rodgers added.
Rodgers, who has lived in the Gayborhood for nearly two decades, said the Center City section has become increasingly popular with families with children, who have blended well with the LGBT residents.
“More families have moved in and the neighborhood’s becoming even more interesting in some ways,” he said. “We all live together and get along really well.”
The Gayborhood wasn’t always the vibrant, bustling spot it is today; for instance, Tria used to be home to a laundromat and Valanni a take-out beer store, Rodgers noted.
But the commercial real-estate renaissance in the area is largely owed to LGBT people, Rodgers added.
“Historically, LGBT people have helped this neighborhood a lot. There were many buildings and stores that were vacant or a little questionable that have now become businesses and restaurants,” he said, adding that restaurateurs Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have been among those leading the Gayborhood real-estate renaissance in recent years. “The neighborhood has totally evolved with new restaurants. And I do think it’s going to continue. Our neighborhood is so centrally located; I think there will always be great resale value.”
Fontaine agreed that the Gayborhood will continue to be a hub for LGBT businesses, residents and visitors, noting that the budding LGBT presence in other neighborhoods supplements, not detracts, from the area.
“Personally, I think Philly’s Gayborhood is here to stay and we even see it growing with hopefully the new Boxers sports bar at 13th and Walnut streets,” he said. “I do think that it’s fun to have different options outside of the Gayborhood and we will continue to see that happening, especially in Passyunk Square, which has hosted many GLBT events and parties.”
While Fontaine added that some property owners need a dose of LGBT-sensitivity, he’s largely seen the landscape for LGBT buyers and renters in all areas of the city to be welcoming.
“I do have many GLBT people who request specifically a gay Realtor, as they are more comfortable with someone who is similar and may understand their needs better,” he said. “I’m happy to say I haven’t experienced much homophobia in any of my dealings with clients’ buying, selling or renting. Sometimes you might get a little double-take or a confused question from an owner when two guys are looking at a one-bedroom, but, overall, Philly is pretty OK with things.”