Judge orders UC Townhomes protest encampment be broken up Monday

Tents are visible on a lawn in front of a red-brick building.

A ''Housing Is A Human Right'' banner is seen atop the UC Townhomes on Sunday, July 10. (Emily White/Billy Penn)

The UC Townhomes protest encampment in West Philadelphia could be broken up by the Sheriff’s Department as early as Monday at 9 a.m.

For weeks, residents and activists have been protesting the potential sale and redevelopment of the complex after it was announced last year the owners would not renew their HUD contract with the federal government.

On Thursday, it was determined that the Sheriff’s Department can begin dismantling the encampment. Personal property taken by law enforcement must be claimed within 30 days, including tents or chairs brought by protesters.

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Judge Joshua Roberts did not order that anyone be detained, but returning protesters who are identified by the property owners could face contempt petitions.

“The sheriff’s on duty and on the scene will be able to employ their best judgment, discretion as to how to handle people if they are there,” Roberts said. “And again, the police will be there, as the sheriff believes they may be necessary to help for public safety measures.”

Multiple residents were present for the hearing including Melvin Hairston. He says many of the residents have “no other options,” for living situations and they don’t have a lot of time to find a new place.

“Our kids go to school in two weeks and this affects everybody, and packing up and moving is not an option for us,” Hairston said.

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Darlene Foreman has lived at the West Philly property for 28 years.

“This process is turning our lives upside down,” Foreman said. “We feel like we have to fight, so this is what we feel like we have to do to get the attention of Brett Altman, the city and the mayor.”

Last July, property owner IBID/Altman Management announced it wouldn’t renew their HUD contract and is looking to place the lots on the market. Industry estimates put the likely sale price near $100 million. According to the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition, 68 families could be impacted. The federal housing contract was originally set to expire July 8, when residents would have been forced to move out, but the contract was extended until Sept. 7. 

In early March, IBID filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier after the City Council passed legislation that temporarily bars developers from demolishing the complex.

Following Thursday’s hearing, a spokesperson for IBID provided a statement to WHYY via email.

“Today’s decision reaffirms that the trespassers who have camped at the site have no legal right to remain on the property,” an IBID spokesperson said. “The Court has ordered the Sheriff “to remove all unauthorized individuals and trespassers occupying” the property, and we will await the Sheriff’s enforcement of the Court’s Order.”

On July 9, the coalition and supporters marched through University City, featuring chants like “Housing is a human right” and “We ain’t going nowhere.” The encampment at the property began soon after.

Residents say they have been deprived of rental services since it began, such as the laundry room and office both being closed.

The townhomes are situated in University City, what was once a majority-Black neighborhood known as the Black Bottom. Concerns over gentrification have risen over time as the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have expanded their campuses.

Located on Market Street between 39th and 40th streets, the UC Townhomes property houses 70 units that for 40 years were offered as federally subsidized housing.

WHYY has reached out to the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department and the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition for comment and is still awaiting response.

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