Philly company offering free apartments for first responders

Steve Patterson founded UrHip about 10 years ago when he began renting out his own apartment in Center City. PHOTO: UrHip

Steve Patterson’s short-term rental company usually caters to business people who need to stay in Philadelphia for a month or longer, like a restaurateur setting up a new location or a movie crew in town for filming.

Ur Home in Philly, known as UrHip, oversees about 100 furnished apartments, mostly in Rittenhouse Square and University City, and its flow of customers has dried up thanks to COVID-19.

“With the virus, corporate America is pretty much shut down,” Patterson said. “Probably about 90 percent of our business has gone away, so we’re sitting on all this inventory that could go to somebody else.”

Patterson and his team are trying to bring in a different clientele. UrHip is now offering free apartments to doctors, nurses, medical workers, police officers and firefighters who need a place to stay to keep their families safe.

So far, only a few first responders have taken Patterson’s offer, but he hopes to house more in the coming weeks.

“They’re out there,” he told Metro. “They’re risking their lives and not only their lives, but also their family’s lives to help us. I think they’re just so courageous.”

For the past several years, Patterson has also offered discounted apartments for cancer patients and others with serious illnesses who are in the city being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered short-term rental companies, like Airbnb, to cease operations after an explosion of coronavirus cases in the Poconos.

UrHip, which falls under the order, received a waiver, state officials said, because it provides housing in partnership with Penn and CHOP and for its efforts to offer apartments to first responders.

Patterson said UrHip has been taking extra precautions to keep its units clean during the pandemic. Each apartment is left unoccupied for three days after the previous tenant leaves before a team comes in to sanitize.

UrHip started about 10 years ago after Patterson got married and moved to the suburbs. He was locked in a lease for his Center City apartment and decided to list it on Airbnb to cover as much of his expenses as possible.

His unit was featured on an episode of a television show, called “Sweet Retreats,” where a group of women visited several rentals in search for a Philadelphia getaway.

“The winner that they chose was my place,” Patterson said. “Then, the phone started ringing, with the publicity that that drew. It started going from breaking even to making a small profit.”

Not long after, he overbooked his apartment and decided to sign a lease for a neighboring unit to keep the reservation. He’s been building the company ever since, quitting his corporate job to focus on the business.

UrHip began offering the apartments at a discounted rate to cancer patients as a way to give back and give those in treatment something more than a hotel room, Patterson said.

“Although a hotel room’s great, they’re small, and they don’t have kitchens, and they don’t have washers and dryers,” he said.

“These families that come in, they’re so stressed,” Patterson added. “They’ve got a million things to worry about. So to be able to offer that is pretty cool.”

Some buildings that offer communal living for those being treated at area hospitals have had to stop accepting new residents due to the virus. UrHip is still housing patients, at a much larger discount, 45 percent, than they normally offer.

To inquire about the free rooms for first responders, visit urhomeinphilly.com and fill out a “contact us” form.

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