Harrisburg developer plans to create affordable housing

Ed Gruver//April 18, 2023

An artist’s rendering of Harrisburg Lofts. ILLUSTRATION/PROVIDED

Harrisburg developer plans to create affordable housing

Ed Gruver//April 18, 2023

Long-time Harrisburg resident George Fernandez, who grew up in affordable housing, is addressing the shortage of low-income housing in the Capitol city.

“My main goal is to create affordable housing,” said Fernandez, who arrived with his family in Harrisburg from his native Dominican Republic 25 years ago and is founder and CEO of Fernandez Realty Group. “A great way to address the needs of the community is housing. That’s my passion.”

Fernandez said the need for affordable housing is only getting greater, and that the timeline for the development of housing isn’t keeping up with the demand. He encouraged local government officials to make dollars available from local grants and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and get federal funding to address the affordable housing crisis.

He added that the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) “carries a lot of stigmas and I would encourage more education that these folks are our fellow neighbors and families, and we need to care more about our local community and our region.

“Having a home to sleep in is the foundation for healthy living. People can’t worry about food or a job if they don’t have a home.”

Fernandez Realty Group plans to buy the 1.03-acre vacant lot that previously served as the site for Woodward Elementary School. The property is located at 1001 N. 18th St. and was approved for sale in January 2023 by the court-appointed Harrisburg School District Receiver Dr. Lori Suski.

Fernandez expects to buy the lot for $240,000 and build a four-story building housing 48 affordable apartment units. Each unit of Woodward Lofts will be a fully furnished, one-bedroom, open loft apartment for low-income residents. The units will be based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The expected monthly rent for each apartment will range from $850 to $925.

“These apartments will be fully furnished with the tools and resources people need in the kitchen,” Fernandez said.

The 61,225-square foot work-and-play community will include clothing and food banks, a community room, onsite daycare, 1,500-square feet of rain garden for free fruits and vegetables, and parking. A clinic and pharmacy may also be included.

“We’re giving affordable housing a new face,” said Fernandez. “We’re creating a live-here, work-here, play-here model. We’re creating a category where no categories existed.”

Fernandez said the project will reportedly cost $17 million and will take three-to-five years to complete.

The vacant lot has been on the market for several years, Woodward Elementary School being torn down in 2016.

The final sale is pending the district’s receiving approval from the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. State law dictates that private sale of school property mut receive court approval. The City of Harrisburg Zoning and Hearing Board must approve the project’s submission, and the Harrisburg City Council will need to approve the land development plan.

The actual closing is expected to be reached “on or before April,” Fernandez said.

“It takes about a year to finish off the permits,” said Fernandez, “and two-to-three years of construction.”

At time of writing, Fernandez said there is not much of an update on the Woodward property as he is waiting on the Court of Common Pleas to approve the sale.

“We have a lot of interest already on leasing the daycare and the retail space,” he added, “so we’re making some progress.”

In October 2022, Fernandez Realty Group broke ground on Sycamore Homes, an affordable housing project on Sycamore St. in Harrisburg. The $3.4 million four-story building will list 23 studio apartments that are fully furnished. Fernandez said he already has a waiting list of about 200 people for Sycamore Homes.

Fernandez is also CEO of Color & Culture, made up of Harrisburg-based firms Latino Connection and PPO&S.