Philadelphia Equal Justice Center (EJC) - Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Q: What is the Equal Justice Center?
A: The Equal Justice Center (EJC) is an approximately 175,000 square foot office building, designed to house twenty (20) or so civil legal aid nonprofits. Co-locating these organizations into one building will allow them to deliver more client-centered services, distribute more resources toward providing those services, and will create cooperative interactions and cost and other efficiencies among the participating organizations.
Q: Why is legal aid important?
A: Civil legal aid is important because it empowers lower-income individuals to achieve just outcomes in and out of court by providing access to high-quality legal advice and professional representation. The rule of law is a fundamental tenant for America to prosper, and when the lowest income individuals lose their access to justice under the law, America loses.
Q: Where will the EJC be located?
A: The EJC will be constructed on what is now a surface parking lot at 800-830 Vine Street. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) currently owns the site and will deed the property over for development. The EJC project is a part of a larger development project for that entire block, including market rate housing, affordable senior housing, a small hotel, a public surface parking lot, and a large swath of open green space.
Q: Who will own the building?
A: A subsidiary of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, PBF Holdings, LLC, will own the building as a ground tenant (or, if such a structure is advisable, as ground condo owner). Either PBF Holdings or a separate Foundation subsidiary will operate the building. The board of the operating entity will include representatives from the legal aid nonprofits in the Center and possibly from the community.
Q: Who will manage operations at the EJC?
A: The operating entity referred to above, which will include representatives of the Center members and other interested parties. The operating entity will retain a management company to manage the building, deal with tenant issues and coordinate use of shared space.
Q: How was this project developed?
A: The EJC concept was developed by the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, working in conjunction with Pennrose Properties and Regional Housing Legal Services. By providing a permanent purpose-built facility for many of Philadelphia’s civil legal aid nonprofits, the Center will serve to sustain, strengthen, and increase the delivery of civil legal services in the City.
Q: How will the EJC accomplish its goals?
A: The Equal Justice Center will house civil legal aid providers delivering centralized pro bono services to low-income clients – ensuring a fairer and more just legal process.
Q: Who will pay for construction?
A: Pennrose will guarantee a construction loan through construction completion at which time the building will be transferred to PBF Holdings, LLC and the construction debt will convert to permanent debt. Other construction sources may include RACP funds, New Markets Tax Credit equity, and private and public donations, solicited by the Bar Foundation.
Q: If the property is owned by a nonprofit will property tax still need to be paid?
A: The EJC qualifies for the City of Philadelphia’s 10-year tax abatement, in which taxes would only be due on the value of the land (which amounts to about 10-20% of the tax bill) for the first 10 years. Additional exemptions that relate to the entity’s nonprofit status are being explored.
Q: How long are the lease terms?
A: The initial lease term for all tenants will be seven years to match the New Markets Tax Credit structure. Subsequent multi-year lease terms will be available until repayment of the public/private debt is complete. After the initial seven-year lease term, members in the Center will be offered a percentage ownership interest in the building.
Q: At the lease signing stage, do the tenants need to provide a financial security deposit?
A: No, the Bar Foundation is fundraising for those items.
Q: What contingencies are in place if tenants terminate leases early?
A: A 2% vacancy rate is built into the Project’s operating budget. In addition, reserves are built into the development budget.
Q: Will the Bar Foundation need to find and enlist other nonprofits if tenants leave?
A: The building owners/operators will intentionally find legal aid nonprofit tenants to avoid non-synergistic uses. If there is attrition, future tenants will need to work with the entities in the EJC in some manner. There has been a lot of interest from other entities.
Q: Will the tenants in the EJC be required to intake clients at the site?
A: No, many of the potential tenants do not intake clients at all or hold client meetings at their offices. There will be shared space for group or larger meetings which may include use by the tenants and the surrounding community for events. For those tenants who do meet with clients regularly, initial intake services will be available in the reception area of the building.
Q: Have you considered a coffee shop, eatery, or a bank in the lower retail shops?
A: Yes, there have been many considerations. When the participating entities were surveyed, current neighborhood amenities were discussed and are being considered. Residents and community members from the Chinatown neighborhood are weighing in as well.
Q: Are the parking spaces in the property lot public or for tenants?
A: The parking lot is public parking and will be operated by EZ Park, Inc.
Q: What else will be on that block/what resources/features will the building have?
A: The Equal Justice Center will have spaces in the building that will be available for community use. The open green space will be open to the public, and the community, and the design will be informed by the community’s input/feedback. The other phases will contain buildings with ground floor commercial space. Our hope is to foster a sense of unity for the common goal of providing access to legal aid to those who need it.
Q: The current design of the building is approximately 175,000 sq. ft. – is this the gross number of rentable AND shared space?
A: Yes. This is the total of rentable, shared/amenity, and core space in the building. “Core space” includes items such items as stairwells, central utility spaces, elevators, restrooms, and lobbies. "Amenity/shared space" is semi-private common spaces such as conference rooms, kitchens, roof terrace, flex offices, etc.
Q: How big is a single floor?
A: For a single agency on one floor: 15,765 gross sq. ft., 13,050 net sq. ft. Core space on each floor is approximately 2,700 sq. ft.
Q: Is affordable housing included IN this building?
A: Yes. As currently designed, there are eight (8) units of Senior Affordable Housing in the EJC. Residential housing will include separate entrances and no interaction between the office and residential tenants.
Q: How will the EJC work with State and Federal Governments to help low-income Pennsylvanians?
A: The development of the EJC involves interaction with all levels of government. The Project’s financing includes state and federal funds, and the site is being offered for development by a City of Philadelphia quasi-government agency. The construction approval process involves many City agencies, including final passage by City Council. Each member agency will also continue its strong interactions with Federal, state, and local governments to aid those in need.
Q: What’s the schedule for the EJC?
A: We are currently working through the zoning and entitlement approvals process with the City of Philadelphia, as well as design. We expect to have a completed design by the end of the summer in 2018, with a financial closing by the end of October. Construction would start immediately, with a 2-year construction period. Member move-ins are expected to begin during the beginning of the first quarter 2021.
Q: How can I contribute toward the EJC Project?
A: Please visit www.PhilaBarFoundation.org/donate and toggle on the “Equal Justice Center” menu item under Gift Designation or call Laura Powers at 215-238-6372.