Things are looking up in University City, Managing Director of Community Housing Diane-Louise Wormley said as she reflected on the swirl of publicity over Penn's new housing programs.
The University City District's services have improved the community's morale along with its appearance. Real-estate agents report brisk sales and high interest in the neighborhood; a Penn affiliate who has been looking to buy in the area has lost three homes to higher bidders. And even though only two days had passed since Penn announced generous cash incentives for faculty and staff purchasing homes in University City, 95 information packets had already been sent to prospective homeowners.
All this activity delights "D-L," who has called University City home since arriving in Philadelphia and at Penn 14 years ago. After rising through the University's fiscal-management ranks, Wormley, then associate treasurer for cash management, was tapped by Executive Vice President John Fry in February to coordinate the housing components of Penn's West Philadelphia Initiative and oversee the Office of Off-Campus Living.
The woman in charge of Penn's effort to make more of its employees stakeholders in University City not only believes in the neighborhood -- she lives there.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
She brings to the position the same enthusiasm and energy that has propelled her through the Penn bureaucracy, and as we talked about her home community and Penn's recent moves to strengthen it, that energy proved contagious.
Q. What led you to move to University City when you came to Philadelphia?
A. I was living in Atlanta. I knew I was coming to Penn, and I was talking to some people who had gone to graduate school here who knew University City very well. And they said, What are you interested in? And I said, I don't want a commute, I love old houses, but I'm not willing to rehab one, and do you think there'd be one for me? And they said, Yes, get in touch with George Funderberg at Urban [Developers], he has a real estate firm, and I did, and I came here, and I must have seen 50 houses, and there never was any other area I looked at. Ever.
Q. Did you buy your home with a guaranteed mortgage from Penn?
A. Actually, I didn't. At that time, the program was a little bit more restrictive and the interest rate wasn't as good as I was able to negotiate. But I am planning on using the enhanced program. If you have a 100-year-old house, as I do, you need to deal with a slate roof and the windows. So I plan on using the home-improvement piece very shortly.
Q. How successful had our existing programs been at getting Penn faculty and staff to live in the neighborhood?
A. Moderate at best. I think the program was structurally sound, but there wasn't a lot of marketing. It's a constant challenge to get people to know about this program, because this is such a large place, and communication is very, very difficult. So I think if you have a very large place with a lot of turnover, and you don't have a big marketing effort, you're not going to have a lot of success.
Now that we're able to devote all of my time and all of Stefany's [Williams-Jones, mortgage services coordinator] to this program, we hope to have a lot more success.
Q. What led to the decision to add the new incentives?
A. We've held pretty steady at about 25 purchases a year in University City [by Penn affiliates], which is about one-quarter of the sales each year. If we're really going to drive the homeownership numbers up from 12 percent to a reasonable number, you can't do it on 25 houses a year. You need three times that many sales.
We knew that the programs that we had were very good, but they weren't getting the job done. So the idea was, All right, what do we want to add? We can get people into houses with no down payment, closing costs, blah blah, but what is it going to take? It's going to take dollars. We had to make a major commitment to get that homeownership up.
Q. How did you settle on the figures of $15,000 and $21,000?
A. Let's see, which one came first? We felt that seven years was a reasonable amount of time to encourage people to live in a property. It's probably a little bit longer than the normal time people spend in a house, but we felt that it wasn't out of reach.
We talked about how much money. We thought $2,000 [per year] was not quite enough; we didn't think that we could budgetarily handle $5,000, so we said, "Let's go with three." Then we did a net-present-value calculation, and that came to $15,000.
Q. Whose idea was it to institute the cash grants?
A. I know that Dr. Rodin's vision has made an enormous difference. She is clearly committed to West Philadelphia, and as she says, our housing programs are meaningful ways in which we can demonstrate that commitment. John Fry's leadership has been very, very important, too.
When they came up and said, We're going to have the West Philadelphia Initiative, which will include a housing component, they were the ones who said, This is going to happen, and we're going to commit the time, energy and the dollars. And the Trustees -- there's a subcommittee of Trustees on West Philadelphia, and they've been extremely supportive of what we're trying to do.
Q. Had you worked with the local Realtors or anyone else in developing these new incentives?
A. Not specifically. All of the Realtors have been very, very supportive of us through our regular program, and we would periodically ask them, What other kinds of things do you think would make a difference? So we got their input, but they didn't necessarily know they were providing it, because we kept this one pretty much under wraps, to be very honest.
Q. And what's been their reaction since the wraps were taken off?
A. They are excited. They are thrilled. We sent them literature immediately, invited them to a pre-announcement Monday [March 30], they have been right there with us and they're extremely important to the equation.
Q. We have some models, don't we, of similar programs?
A. Actually, we understand that Yale University has had a cash incentive program for a while. They don't have the home-improvement piece, nor do they have the guaranteed mortgage program. So certainly a piece of it looks like the Yale program, but it's more comprehensive.
Q. Do we know how successful the Yale program has been?
A. I believe that they had about 250 purchases over the couple of years they did their program. They did their program in two stages.
Q. Are we adding on to this later?
A. I certainly hope so. What we'd like to do is to be able to expand this program to other areas of University City, Powelton Village, all of West Philadelphia. If you were to ask me what my dream is, it would be that we would also have some of our other institutions in University City offer the same kind of program or a similar program for their employees.
Penn's community housing initiatives include a guaranteed mortgage program that finances 100 percent of the purchase price plus five percent for closing costs and 15 percent towards rehabbing, if needed; matching funds of up to $7,500 for exterior home improvements; and a cash incentive of $3,000 a year for seven years or $15,000 at closing for new buyers in University City. Information about these programs is available from the Office of Community Housing at 898-7422.
Interested buyers can inspect homes for sale during the annual University City Saturday open house. See What's On.
Originally published on April 16, 1998