‘This is power’: Philly renters demand better living conditions from Odin Properties

Odin has responded to some of the group’s demands to make repairs to its affordable units.

Renters march outside Avondale Apartments during a protest against Odin Properties, accused of poorly managing their low-income rental properties in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Dozens of Philadelphia renters on Tuesday gathered to demand corporate landlord Odin Properties make urgent repairs to units that are part of the company’s affordable housing portfolio.

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Protesters carry signs reading You Can't Hide We Can See Your Greedy Side
Protesters march outside Avondale Apartments during a protest against Odin Properties, accused of poorly managing their low-income rental properties in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Odin tenants, many of whom are Black and brown, say they’ve had to endure deplorable living conditions, including faulty ceilings, plumbing and heating issues, infestations and leaks. And they say Odin has largely ignored their pleas to fix those problems and provide safe and dignified housing.

“Poor, working class, seniors, disabled — these are the people they take advantage of,” said Theresa Howell, a member of Renters United Philadelphia, inside Overington Park in Frankford.

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Theresa Howell speaks to a crowd
Renters United organizer Theresa Howell speaks to a group of tenants gathered at Overington Park in Northeast Philadelphia during a rally and march against Odin Properties, a provider of low-income housing in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Organizers estimate Odin operates about 2,000 units in Philadelphia, including Avondale Apartments and Parkside Apartments, which both sit within walking distance of the park.

David Oney lives in Allegheny Apartments, a low-rise building Odin operates in North Philadelphia near Broad Street. He moved there to be closer to his fiancée and daughter and was told his place would be fixed up by the time he arrived from Texas. But Oney said it took months — and 36 work orders — before any repairs were done.

And even now, his place has problems, he said. Crews installed a new stove and fixed up his flooring, but the roof above his bedroom closet continues to leak and all of his ceilings are sagging.

“They have money but they refuse to actually put that in play. It’s agitating,” said Oney.

David Oney Jr. speaks to protesters
David Oney Jr. complains about ceiling mold and pest infestations in the Odin property where he lives. He joined about 60 other tenants at a rally in Overington Park demanding change. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

He’s considered moving but can’t afford to. His monthly disability checks are his only reliable source of income. And they’re barely enough to cover his rent, which has gone up each of the last three years.

“They don’t treat us like we’re equals — like we’re human,” said Oney. “They need to be taught a lesson they’ll never forget.”

A spokesperson for Odin Properties did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Renters United and OnePA delivered a petition to Odin’s corporate office that calls on the company to “make immediate repairs to protect the lives, dignity and wellbeing of their tenants.”

The petition, signed by more than 450 renters, also demands that Odin freeze rents and evictions at all properties until repairs are made; provide rent rebates to all tenants living with “habitability violations”; refrain from retaliation or hostile treatment; and meet face to face with impacted tenants.

Organizers say the petition has led to repairs for nearly 30 tenants, as well as a sit-down last week with Odin CEO Philip Balderston. They say Balderston has committed to many of the group’s demands, including annual city inspections, weekly pest control and regular meetings with tenants. The company has also agreed to provide rent rebates for certain tenants, fix broken elevators and create a maintenance hotline.

two children carry signs reading Avondale: All Eyes on Odin and Parkside: All Eyes on Odin
Children carry signs during a protest march against Odin Properties, which provides low-income rentals in Philadelphia. Tenants complained of leaking roofs, cockroach infestations and mold in their apartments and common areas and of the company's slow response to their problems. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I expect them to start improving a little bit and fall off. But we’re here to stay on them and make sure they continue to do it,” said Lori Peterson, a tenant at Mount West Apartments in West Oak Lane, another Odin property.

Peterson has rented a one-bedroom at Mount West for five years. She’s been dealing with cockroaches for most of that time. She said she hasn’t seen an exterminator since April, forcing her to go into her pocket for glue traps and other pest control devices.

Lori Peterson speaks to protesters
Lori Peterson, who lives in Mount West Apartments, talks about her experience renting from Odin Properties. About 60 tenants gathered in Overington Park to protest Odin's slow response to maintenance issues. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I’ve had roaches come down my face, be on my body parts, be on my toilet paper roll. They’re everywhere,” said Peterson, who lives on a fixed income.

Like Oney, she can’t afford to leave.

Tuesday’s rally is part of a broader campaign against corporate landlords operating in Philadelphia, particularly companies that manage low-income units in the city.

Kendra Brooks, Rue Landau and Nicolas O'Rourke
Philadelphia City Council members (from left) Kendra Brooks, Rue Landau and Nicolas O'Rourke listen as tenants air their complaints about Odin Properties. The rally, organized by Renters United, took place in Overington Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Tenants, for example, are suing Columbus Property Management over conditions at their apartment buildings. Despite repeated complaints, they say the company has failed to address issues related to leaks, mold, pest infestations and other “serious habitability issues.”

And residents at Brith Sholom House in West Philly have organized to demand the building’s owners bring the building to code. The property, which is in receivership, has more than 100 serious code violations, according to city records. They include issues with smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and fire resistance. There are also electrical and plumbing hazards.

Organizers on Tuesday said corporate landlords need to be held accountable — and it starts with speaking up.

“They want you to believe that they’re almighty and powerful … but look at us. This is power, people. And we’re gonna get everything we ask for,” said Howell.

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