Last Thursday, Phil Cacossa and another worker were gutting the inside of a townhome on New Brook Street in Bristol Borough. Soon, they’ll be renovating the inside, improving the long-vacant house with state-of-the-art building materials and energy-efficient HVAC, lighting and plumbing fixtures.
Cacossa wants to remove any potential headaches for the first-time homeowners who will move in, though doesn’t know who they are yet.
The longtime architect is gradually stepping away from his work at Design Resources Group Architects in Somerset, New Jersey to take on a new mission of purchasing and restoring neglected homes in an effort to help revitalize communities. He calls the company Socrates Developers, and keeps the Socratic ethic of focusing on the way things could be, rather than how they are, close to heart.
“For us, the key is to look into properties that someone couldn’t move into on their on,” Cacossa said. “It’s a chance for me to do what I’ve been doing my whole life, but do it in a way to serve people.”
The Bristol Borough house is the first property purchased by Socrates Developers. Cacossa, a Doylestown resident, has visited the town many times. He and his Realtor looked at nearly two dozen properties there to find the right fit. His wife, Linda, is also chief operating officer for Heritage Conservancy, a nonprofit that preserved 80 acres at Croydon Woods and has a conservation easement on Bristol Marsh.
“You’ve got the river here, you’ve got a downtown, it’s a walkable town, you can commute to the city. It works for working people and it works for community life and families with young kids,” Cacossa said. “That’s what we were looking for the clients that we want to have move in. We want them to have a neighborhood around them, to have support close by.”
Nobody is lined up yet to own the house, but it’s expected to be completed within 8 to 10 weeks. Cacossa hopes it never hits the open market, preferring to sell by word of mouth with the help of the Bucks Opportunity Council, A Woman’s Place, Bucks County Housing Group and similar organizations.
His fixing and selling these homes has a twofold benefit — a family is able to buy a reliable home worry-free and a community can lose a blighted property and gain a neighbor.
Cacossa was inspired to do this by his own experience with helping his daughter, Abigail Henshaw, buy and fix up their home in Havertown, instead of having to rent. Now, Henshaw and her daughter Sophia live in the home without worrying whether the roof will hold up or the water heater will leak.
“The amount of pride she’s taken in it is astonishing,” Cacossa said. “When you’re in a rental unit, you don’t want to do those things because it’s not yours.”
With Socrates Developers, he wants to instill that same pride in people who are ready to buy their first homes, and he wants to do it in other neighborhoods all over Bucks County. As the project picks up steam, Cacossa will move even further away from the architecture firm and make this his full-time job. Within three years, he thinks, that’s a possibility.
“To see the appreciation on people’s faces when you help them out and give them the lift up they need,” he said. “It’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re on this earth”