The renovated house is in striking contrast to its abandoned state before Credit: Courtesy Compass Realty

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A previously abandoned townhome in West Philly renovated and outfitted to mine trace amounts of cryptocurrency sold for $237,000 in mid-May after spending nearly two months on the market.

The Mantua home on 42nd Street was flipped and listed by Compass realtor Mark Masih. It sat vacant and abandoned for over a decade until 2018, property records show. When Masih took control of the property in December 2021, he said it was in “shell” condition and virtually unlivable.

Renovations included installing a small Ethereum miner in an upstairs closet with the potential to generate passive income for the owner. The currency — which is thought to be a more environmentally friendly alternative to Bitcoin — would’ve generated around $13 a week during April.

After Billy Penn reported on the listing in March, some nearby residents (and several commenters on Twitter) expressed concerns about gentrification, and how the house’s value could drive up property taxes for homeowners who used to find the neighborhood affordable.

The median sale price of a home in Mantua is $315,000, per Redfin, up 34% from last year. As of 2019, the area’s median household income was just over $25,000.

Ang Sun is the president of West Philadelphia United Neighbors, a registered community organization that advocates for increased affordable housing options across West Philly.

“Yes, I would like to see my neighbors living in a healthy and safe place,” Sun told Billy Penn. “But more housing doesn’t equal more affordable housing.” He believes “affordable housing should be suited to the median household income in a certain area.”

Philadelphia’s new Turn the Key program, however, hints at a different definition. Part of City Council’s Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, the project plans to build 1,000 “affordable” single-family homes across the city capped at a $250,000 sale price. Several have questioned for whom that qualifies as affordable.

The Mantua home’s new owner is Brandon Green, 45. He’s the owner of small business Stockyard Cider Company, which he launched after leaving his Chicago job as an HIV prevention social worker and moving to the Philadelphia suburbs in 2019.

Green also didn’t know what the Etherium miner was, initially. “I took a picture of it to look up later,” he told Billy Penn. “When I went home and looked it up, I thought, ‘That’s crazy, and very cool.’”

The interior of the property before renovation Credit: Courtesy Mark Masih

A long neighborhood history of being pushed out

In the West Philadelphia area around Mantua, gentrification is a constant, looming concern. Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel started on a pattern of development that first displaced residents of the Black Bottom. That continues with the current surge of construction and renovations, which has the potential to price out or isolate longtime, low-income Black and brown residents.

Masih, the realtor, pushes back on the notion that his project was the malignant kind of gentrification Mantua residents should be concerned about.

“A lot of people are going to say a rehabbed house in West Philly is automatically gentrification, and that’s not what it is,” Masih said. “I would say that the community appreciates that the house has been fixed up. Neighbors would walk by and say, ‘Wow, that house looks great.’”

Studies show repairing vacant housing in Philadelphia can coincide with a drop in crime, particularly assaults, both with and without firearms.

When Green made an offer on the Mantua property, he said it was because the home was “the nicest place he saw.” But now that he’s starting to settle in, he and his wife are mindful about what their presence in the area could signal to neighbors.

“It is a fear of ours that we’re possibly seen that way, [as gentrifiers],” he said.

Sun, the housing activist, argues that developments like a house that can mine crypto could drive up Mantua’s cachet and harm homeowners in the area who aren’t looking to buy or sell.

In May, Philadelphia released new property valuations that saw average home values across the city increase by 31% from 2019, when they were last calculated.

“If the property values on a block go up, [homeowners] are going to have to pay more taxes. That’s an actual burden to people,” said Sun. “When there’s just one new development on the block, developers will say, ‘It’s not a big deal. It’s just one.’ But who can actually afford the burden of a quarter million dollar townhome in an area like Mantua?”

Masih acknowledges not everyone would be able to buy the crypto house.

“I’m not sitting here saying, ‘I’m going to uplift the community.’ I’m an investor,” Masih said. “Yes, if you look at the neighborhood’s average income compared to the purchase price of the property, you might say the house is hard for people in the neighborhood to buy. But those are averages, right? That means there are people there saying, ‘Yes, I can afford this.’”