Housing protest leaders, city agree to terms for disbanding Parkway encampment

Protesters wait behind blockades to defend the Parkway homeless encampment

Protesters wait behind blockades to defend the Parkway encampment in September. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia officials and leaders of the housing protest encampment along Benjamin Franklin Parkway have reached an agreement in which its residents will voluntarily disband the James Talib Dean camp, also known as Camp JTD, this week.

According to the terms of the agreement, the city and the Philadelphia Housing Authority have vowed to transfer 50 vacant properties into a community land trust established by encampment residents, as well as arrange for other means of providing affordable housing.

The accord announced Tuesday night comes less than two weeks after residents of a similar encampment, Camp Teddy, near PHA’s Ridge Avenue headquarters in North Philadelphia reached an agreement with the city to clear the site in exchange for a community land trust and workforce development program.

The protest encampments began in early June, with hundreds of people setting up tents along the Parkway and at the Ridge Avenue site demanding that the city provide more permanent affordable housing options. During the last few months, the city and residents of the encampment have sparred over multiple eviction notices.

“OccupyPHA, along with the leaders and residents of the Parkway Encampment … came together with a protest to pressure PHA and the City to come to the table to discuss real changes to the housing crisis in Philadelphia,” said camp leader Jennifer Bennetch. “I am very proud that we were able to reach an agreement with the City and PHA to create a Community Land Trust for permanent low-income housing with long-term vacant City and PHA properties. We appreciate the opportunity to move from protest to partner and look forward to implementing lasting change for the houseless community.”

The agreement calls for the city to provide phased site control and access on a temporary basis to up to 10 properties within five days of the camp’s resolution and establishment of the land trust.

Six months after the camp is disbanded, the city says it will transfer an additional 40 properties identified by the trust. Twenty-five of those homes will be transferred to the city by PHA within 45 days. Those properties will come from closed Rental Assistance Demonstrations, a federal housing program that allows public housing agencies to convert units into project-based Section 8 housing.

The remaining 15 properties will be city-owned properties identified by the land trust.

“As with last week’s resolution of the Ridge Avenue camp, this agreement is the result of a lot of hard work by all of those involved, and I thank everyone for their efforts,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “This took a long time, but an amicable resolution was always my goal, and I’m pleased that this has been achieved. I also want to thank the camp leaders and residents for elevating Philadelphia’s affordable housing crisis in the public eye. We have an agreement, but the larger issues remain — particularly amid a global pandemic — and we all need to rededicate ourselves to finding bold solutions.”

There are several other arrangements under the agreement, including the development of two tiny house villages; making nine bedrooms for individuals, and five bedrooms for families available under the Shared Housing initiative program; and PHA’s implementation of the Community Choice Registration Program to make properties more accessible to nonprofits, community development corporations and land trusts.

In addition, the city’s Office of Homeless Services has created 50 new rapid rehousing opportunities available under a Street to Home Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program that will provide individuals selected with a security deposit, utility assistance, moving costs, leasing assistance, and up to two years of rental assistance for privately rented housing.

Kelvin A. Jeremiah, the Housing Authority’s CEO, said, “I want to especially thank the encampment leaders for highlighting the desperate need for long-term affordable housing especially during the midst of this health crisis. Although the encampments are closed, there is still so much work to do. We must all continue to work together until there is housing for everyone.”

A JTD Camp organizer, Sterling Johnson, said of the announcement, “We would not be here if not for all of the activists that have sacrificed their bodies for racial and economic justice.”

“The whole point of our protest was to make sure everybody had a house,” Johnson said. “And while we didn’t get everything we wanted, we did get a commitment for a significant number of housing units for a community land trust from the City and PHA and expanded options for camp residents. We also have gotten assurances that we will have a seat at the table with the City leaders so our voices will be heard and our grievances addressed.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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