Jumpstart Philly Cultivates Grassroots Developers

April 9, 2024 | by Stacia Friedman

Developer Ken Weinstein speaks to enrollees of Jumpstart Philly, a community development program. | Photo courtesy of Jumpstart Philly

Laureal Robinson loved the historic architecture of her Germantown neighborhood, but lacked the finances and expertise to fix up properties that had fallen into disrepair. That changed when she read an article about Jumpstart Germantown. “Since taking the program in 2017 I have developed five properties in Germantown, West Oak Lane, and Ogontz,” said the educator of 27 years. “I now have a circle of contractors, developers, and real estate agents.”

Another addition to Robinson’s crew is her two-year old son who carries a toy tool box to all her projects. “I want to improve the area where I live and develop two or more properties a year,” said Robinson. “I also want to save for my son’s college education and leave him a home he can pass down.” 

Joshua Jones was flipping properties in Olney when he enrolled in Jumpstart in 2016. “Since then, I have developed six properties. At first, I was strictly in Germantown and Mt. Airy, until Jumpstart Philly opened. Now I’m in Strawberry Mansion and Brewerytown,” explained Jones. “The program taught me how to organize and execute deals.”

Realtor Baiyina Brown always aspired to be a developer, but life and six children got in the way. “I enrolled in the program in 2018. After the training to save money to invest in properties, I moved in with my mother in Mt. Airy, woke up at 3 a.m. to teach English online to students in China, got my kids off to the Henry School, and worked full time as a realtor at Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach in Chestnut Hill.” When she saved enough money, Brown bought her first property in Germantown, a three-bedroom rowhouse. “I managed the renovation myself. I am not flipping. I rent out properties. Now, I also own a triplex in Germantown. I’m doing one development project per year while being a full time realtor and a parent.” Her influence has paid off. One of her eldest has taken Jumpstart Norristown and the little ones, who help with renovations, have expressed an interest in architecture.

These days, Brown is also a speaker at Jumpstart Germantown. “I speak to trainees as a realtor about how to get a property ready for the market,” she said. Brown views her role as a developer as an investment in her community. “I live here. My friends and family are here. I am happy to remove blight from my neighborhood,” she said.

A map showing the locations of JumpStart loans throughout the city reveals the program’s growth. | Image: Jumpstart Philly

These are just a few of the thousands of graduates of Jumpstart Philly, an intensive, 5-week training program created by developer Ken Weinstein, president of Philly Office Retail. The goal is not home ownership, but breaking the generational barriers to becoming an investor.

“I started the Jumpstart program nine years ago because I wanted to provide local residents with the opportunity to benefit from real estate development,” said Weinstein. “Previously, it was hard to break into development unless you had a close friend or family member in the business. It’s always been clear to me that neighborhood blight attracts crime and vandalism. By removing blight, Jumpstarters are reducing crime and improving the quality of life for themselves and their neighbors,” he explained.

Research confirms Weinstein’s premise. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2020, showed that abandoned homes that were fixed up in low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia reduced gun violence.

Weinstein, who has blazed a trail of condominiums, multi-family dwellings, and commercial properties along Germantown Avenue from Mt. Airy to Wayne Junction, views Jumpstart as an intrinsic complement to his own projects. “Commercial corridors cannot improve without better housing options, and residential communities cannot improve without a revitalized business district,” he said. “There is no doubt that my commercial projects have gained in value because local residents are renovating single family houses. All blight removal is needed, both large and small.”

Before and after renovation of a property in Brewerytown by a Jumpstart graduate. | Photos: Google Street View

To date, 1,553 participants have graduated from the program. “We help them, step by step,” said Angie Williamson, director of Jumpstart Germantown and Jumpstart Philly. “Ken is the facilitator, and he brings in experts in the field. We typically run two programs per year, after which graduates have access to a Facebook group with 4,000 others where they can ask for recommendations and references for contractors, architects, tradesmen, etc. We also offer ‘Jumpinars,’ online videos on how to find a contractor and how to be a good client.”

The biggest catalyst of the program is its low-interest loans. “We consider ourselves gap financiers,” said Williamson. “First time developers can’t get a loan. When we started in 2016, we granted only 10 loans. Now we offer 45-60 loans per year. 40 percent of our loans go to women,” she explained. Over the last 10 years Jumpstart has given $50 million in loans to Black and brown developers. 

“In August we went citywide,” said Williamson. “We’re seeing a lot of development in Kingsessing, Elmwood, and West Philly. We have also created a tool kit for 15 other cities to follow as far away as Clearwater, Florida and Oklahoma City. By expanding Jumpstart we are expanding affordable housing.”

The program fee is $125 with $100 of that amount donated to a local nonprofit, a modest investment for a potentially life-changing experience. “We just finished our 29th class last week. Even if you don’t become a developer, you will be a more informed resident,” said Williamson.


About the Author

Stacia Friedman is a Philadelphia freelance writer and visual artist who tried New York and Los Angeles on for size and came home to roost. Her articles have appeared in WHYY’s Newsworks, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, Broad Street Review, and Chestnut Hill Local. She loves the city’s architecture, history, and vibrant arts scene.

One Comment:

  1. Florence Buckley says:

    Developing properties to rent is a form of working class oppression. My block in Germantown is now full of renters instead of owners. Stop buying houses you’re not going to live in.

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