Rents in East Liberty have skyrocketed in recent years, but a new use of an old building will bring lower-cost options back to the neighborhood.

It’s a full redevelopment of the Angelus Convalescent Center, located right behind the $50 million mixed-use project under construction on the former Penn Plaza site which will be anchored by Whole Foods Market.

“It was started around 50 years ago, built as a nursing home,” says project developer Ahron Freilich, of CLS Star. The person who originally owned the building has since retired and closed the family business about a year ago, he added.

The property will now be converted into 33 below-market-rate apartments.

“As I got to know people here (in East Liberty), the common theme is where new development comes in, and now people have to take a bus 40 minutes to work, and rents that were $600 are now $1,400.”

This project — which does not have a name yet — will include at least 90% of its units priced below $1,000, with some as low as $500.

“We looked for ways to put it on the market for rents that people used to see, under $1,000,” says Freilich, “with the goal of letting people continue to live in the neighborhood, or to come back here if they’ve left.

“We’re doing that without public funding,” he notes.

According to Apartments.com, average rents in East Liberty are $1,393 for a studio, $1,327 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,534 for two bedrooms.

Photo courtesy of Dan Rothschild.

Dan Rothschild, of Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, is the architect for the project.

“Anytime you can reuse an existing building is typically good for the neighborhood and good for the environment,” says Rothschild. “This building has been vacant because it was no longer useful. Reusing it for housing is ideal.”

The special feature that sets it apart, says Rothschild, is a large courtyard which will be opened up as a public-facing space.

“The building was originally a U-shaped building with an addition on the back, with a large courtyard and a small courtyard, fallen into disrepair,” says Rothschild. “We’re going to be reimagining those as beautiful public spaces. One has an old wooden shelter that will be removed. Three very mature trees have been crowded by that shelter. They’ll be able to stand on their own. We’ll put in new landscaping and furniture so people can enjoy sitting under those trees, like a park-like setting.”

The pandemic has not hindered the project so far.

“The pandemic only supported the project even more, because people start looking at their monthly budgets and reconsidered how much they should be spending on rent,” says Freilich “The demand has increased. More importantly, it highlighted that we’re all in this together; that’s why this project is intended for all people, not just the luxury market.”

“Fundamentally, I believe that doing business and doing good things don’t need to be contradictory.”