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PHA says announcement of homeless encampment deal is ‘entirely premature’

Encampment protest on Ben Franklin Parkway

Organizers behind Philly’s homeless encampments say they’ve struck a tentative deal with officials to relocate those living in tents to 50 vacant properties. (NBC10)

Updated at 8:10 p.m.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority calls housing activists’ announcement of a tentative deal with the city regarding the fate of two homeless encampments “premature and disappointing.”

The deal would have the city transfer 50 vacant properties, slated for sale to developers, to a community land trust managed by the group, encampment organizers announced late Saturday.

On Sunday, a city spokesperson wouldn’t confirm the deal, saying in a statement that “many details” needed to be worked out and any final agreement would “require a date certain by which the protest camps will be resolved.”

The Philadelphia Housing Authority returned a request for comment on Monday afternoon with a statement that was much more critical of the organizers’ announcement.

“Announcement of a deal is entirely premature … ,” the statement read. “The encampment leaders continuing to negotiate in the media and in the realm of public opinion demonstrates their lack of sincerity.

“Although, we remain hopeful about reaching an amicable resolution on the encampment, this puts any deal in serious jeopardy.”

PHA echoed what the city relayed Sunday, adding no deal could be struck without an end date to the encampments.

Jennifer Bennetch is an encampment organizer with the group Philadelphia Housing Action.

On Sunday, Bennetch told WHYY News she could see the encampments clearing out in a matter of weeks — should the city let the coalition include some vacant, city-owned properties, which are currently slated for auction and only require few repairs, in the stock of 50 homes they could receive for the trust.

After reading PHA’s statement, Bennetch said she wasn’t surprised. 

“PHA is obviously being forced by the city to do the right thing in this instance and they don’t want to,” she said. “PHA is not here in good faith like the city is as you can see the major difference between their responses.”

At one of the camps by the Ben Franklin Parkway Sunday, those living in tents said they understood they would have to leave if and when the city put pen to paper and concluded negotiations.

Residents said they even removed traffic barriers they’d placed on 22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as 22nd Street and the Parkway as a sign of good faith.

There are some 150 people living at the Parkway encampment and another 30 at an encampment by PHA headquarters on Ridge Avenue, according to organizers.

Though it was understood among some encampment residents that 50 homes wouldn’t be enough to relocate all of them, several people WHYY News spoke to said they were fine with disbanding so long as the most vulnerable among them were housed.

In its statement, PHA did not say where negotiations stand now. Instead, it criticized the Ridge Avenue encampment, which residents say has stalled the development of a supermarket.

“The encampment on Ridge Avenue continues to hold the community hostage and is jeopardizing a much needed and long-awaited community development in the [underserved] Sharswood community,” read the statement.

Bennetch said she was left most angry by this remark, which she said ignores that most of those in the Ridge Avenue encampment are long-time members of Sharswood.

“We are the community,” she said.

While PHA’s comments were alarming because of the role they play in housing, Bennetch said she’s not too concerned about the deal being in “jeopardy” so long as the city continues to pressure the agency.

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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