Philadelphia’s Population and Inventory is on the Rise!

Center City’s growing residential population has kept pace with the surge of new apartments being built, a trend that justifies developers’ bets on downtown Philadelphia and defies what’s happening in the rest of the city.

The population of Greater Center City — defined as the area from Girard Avenue to Tasker Street between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers — increased by 26% to 188,741 between 2011 and 2022, according to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled by Center City District. During that same time period, the number of housing units downtown increased by 24%.

In the past four years alone, Greater Center City’s residential population has increased by 3% as development of new housing has accelerated with 7,429 units built since 2021. That population growth has helped offset the loss of office workers, many of whom have transitioned to permanent remote and hybrid work since the start of the pandemic.

The dynamic in Center City, where the populating is growing to match the increased housing supply, bucks the citywide trend. Across Philadelphia as a whole, the 9% increase in housing units from 2011 to 2022 was almost twice the 5% rate of population growth.

Prema Katari Gupta, CEO of Center City District, said the relationship between housing supply and population growth is something she’s watching closely.

“[We’re] pleasantly surprised by the fact that inventory and population increased and matched each other,” Katari Gupta said. “We hope they will continue to do so. I think a lot of people thought that the population growth would curtail as the millennials moved out to the suburbs perhaps or left the city. That hasn’t happened, which I think is interesting and positive.”

Another 7,181 housing units are in the works, according to Center City District, providing room for the downtown population to keep growing. The combination of low interest rates and the scaling back of the city’s 10-year tax abatement for new development at the end of 2021 led to the unprecedented boom in new multifamily projects. The surging supply of apartments puts Philadelphia in uncharted territory and raises the question of how all the new housing in Center City will be filled.

From 2021 to 2023, 53% of people moving into Greater Center City came from elsewhere in Pennsylvania, according to anonymized cell phone data from Placer.ai. The next most common states people relocated from were New York (15%), Florida (8%) and Delaware (6%).

“Philadelphia by comparison is a lot more affordable [than New York City], especially when people have a choice to figure out where they want to live in response to remote work,” said Lauren Smith, Center City District manager of economic development. “I think Philadelphia is an attractive place for that, especially because you still have a lot of the amenities of being a walkable city and also having access to really affordable housing as well for New Yorkers.”

While it’s uncertain if Greater Center City’s population will keep rising to match the next wave of more than 7,000 housing units, the construction slowdown that is expected to follow should give it time to catch up if needed. Developers accelerated existing projects to take advantage of the expiring 10-year tax abatement, leading to the current construction boom, but high interest rates have since forced many new projects to be delayed or abandoned.

Clint Randall, vice president of economic development for Center City District, described it as a “built-in pause.”

“A lot of apartment developers and investors aren’t seeing projects pencil out,” Randall said. “This idea of 7,000 in the pipeline, 7,000 more on the way, that doesn’t mean there’s another 7,000 behind that. There’s going to be a period of 12 to 24 to 36 months I would guess where we’re really going to see the pipeline of projects slow down. I think that just builds in the time for us to play catch-up if in fact we have to.”


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