Project Rehab is a free community-based initiative that identifies property owners and guides them through the process of restoring their distressed real estate. Working in collaboration with local community groups and the City of Philadelphia, University City District established Project Rehab in 2011 in order to transform problem properties into neighborhood assets. 

Project Rehab


Despite University City’s widespread economic transformation over the past decade, vacant and deteriorating properties continue to damage entire blocks, attracting crime, creating safety hazards and diminishing surrounding real estate values. Philadelphia has long struggled with an over-abundance of vacant parcels, the bulk of which are located in West and North Philadelphia. 

Once a home falls into disrepair, it can become overwhelming for the owner to rectify all the problems; as the building falls deeper into ruin, it begins to put neighboring properties at risk as well. Not only does this prevent the neighborhood from reaching its fullest potential, but it creates safety hazards and high costs to the City, which simultaneously loses tax revenues and has to expend taxpayer dollars to track violations and potentially demolish buildings.   

Properties that were originally intended to serve as wealth-building assets can become distressed for a variety of reasons: economic downturns can hit in the middle of a construction project; title can transfer between family members without them knowing; owners may lack the knowledge required to keep a building up to code. Project Rehab works to ensure that the real estate is returned to useful life, based on the owner’s visions and goals for the property.  


While Project Rehab responds to the unique needs of each property owner, the core steps of every project are the same. 

1. Property Monitoring and Identification
UCD uses a variety of methods to monitor problem properties in the district. Staff conduct physical surveys to identify distressed real estate, and seek input from community and civic associations as well as concerned community members. Staff also work closely with the City, making use of information and investigations gathered by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. 

2. Owner Identification 
Project Rehab then uses a variety of resources to clarify property ownership, which can be challenging to unravel. Staff conducts online research and interviews community organizations, neighbors, and owners’ family members. Project Rehab also partners with government offices such as the Philadelphia Revenue Department, the Records and Deeds Office, the Register of Wills, and Licenses and Inspections to obtain information on owners and their properties. 

3. Defining the Course of Action
Once we establish contact with an owner, Project Rehab and the owner develop a course of action for the property, which often entails renovation for eventual personal use, sale, or rental/leasing.  Whatever the desired outcome, UCD provides a range of free supports and services to help the owner achieve their goals: 

  • Financing: Working in partnership with local banking institutions, UCD drafts and develops financing packages for owners who want to finance the rehabilitation of the property.
  • Rehabilitation: UCD has developed a list of licensed contractors who are experienced with the rehabilitation of distressed properties. Staff provide support and knowledge to owners throughout the process, helping to obtain all required permits, licenses and inspections. 
  • Sale: UCD has built a network of realtors who support those owners who decide to sell their property. 
  • Zoning: UCD connects owners with local attorneys and community organizations to work through the zoning process. 
  • Conservatorship: Project Rehab works with 501-4C not-for-profits to utilize Pennsylvania legislation known as the Act 135 Conservatorship Act to redevelop distressed properties with no known owners.

Along the way, the Project Rehab team is able to deploy outside the box strategies to help each owner achieve their rehabilitation goals, regardless of the issue surrounding the real estate. From helping a family open an estate to untangling title issues to ensuring that owners are well represented while seeking equity development partners, Project Rehab is a guide and support for property owners. 


Project Rehab makes a difference in people’s lives and their communities. Whether helping a longtime resident and business owner make her house wheelchair accessible for her elderly mother to preventing the demolition of a historic church holding community programs, Project Rehab has helped to strengthen West Philadelphia. It transforms entire blocks while spurring market value, and increasing tax revenue for the City.  

Since the program’s inception in 2011, Project Rehab has now impacted 61 overall properties producing 176 commercial and residential units with a total market value of approximately $32,226,200. By boosting local construction companies, suppliers, and real estate financers, this program is an economic driver making positive ripple effects throughout the community.  

Case Study

Following a devastating fire many years ago, this property remained neglected until UCD led a rigorous search for the deceased owner’s daughter.  After eventually locating her in New York, UCD helped the owner establish an estate, find a Pennsylvania resident to act as an ambassador, and raise the funds needed to move the project forward. UCD then introduced the pair to several realtors, one of whom sold the property in less than 45 days. The new owners – a West Philadelphia-based company – started construction in April 2013. The property is now a beautiful four-bedroom, two-bath home with roof deck, central air and every modern feature possible. 



For more information, contact Ryan Spak, Project Rehab Manager, at [email protected]