UC Townhomes protest encampment dismantled; residents vow the ‘fight’s not over’

Sheldon David, a University City Townhomes resident of 13 years, spoke to supporters at a protest march after an attempted eviction of an encampment protesting the displacement of the townhomes' residents on August 8, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Sheldon David, a University City Townhomes resident of 13 years, spoke to supporters at a protest march after an attempted eviction of an encampment protesting the displacement of the townhomes' residents on August 8, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The University City Townhomes protest encampment was broken up by law enforcement Monday following a court order. Residents and activists took to the streets in protest.

University City Townhomes residents led supporters on a protest march on August 8, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For more than 30 days, an encampment has been set up on the property protesting the potential sale and redevelopment of the complex after it was announced last year that the owners would not renew their HUD contract with the federal government.

Last Thursday, an order issued by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas allowed the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department to break up the encampment.

Protesters occupying the University City Townhomes in Philadelphia hung signs after an attempted eviction of the encampment. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protesters began marching down Market St. and stopped traffic on 38th and 40th St. In the middle of an intersection, UC Townhomes resident Melvin Hairston addressed protesters and the traffic jam saying the residents deserve better.

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“They ain’t giving us nothing but a hard time, we gonna give them Hell y’all,” Hairston said.

Melvin Hairston, a University City Townhomes resident of 30 years, spoke to supporters at a protest march after an attempted eviction of an encampment protesting the displacement of the townhomes’ residents on August 8, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After returning to UC Townhomes, resident Krystal Strong addressed the crowd by telling them they “defended the camp today.”

“Even when you go home today, know that the fight is not over,” Strong said. “We want you to keep track on the social media, because when we need you, we are expecting you to come, show up, stand up, fist up, fight back.”

In an emailed statement, the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office said the demonstration was relatively peaceful. One person was issued a citation accused of assaulting law enforcement and sent home. The department also noted the need for affordable housing, saying that the issue needs to be addressed by the legislative and executive branches but said, “there were circumstances beyond our control that required action.”

Darlene Forman, a University City Townhomes resident for 29 years, led protesters with a megaphone into Market Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

During the protest, SEPTA closed the gates to the 40th Street Station and trains bypassed the stop. A spokesperson for SEPTA said the delays in the area lasted about thirty minutes.

Last July, property owner IBID/Altman Management announced it was looking to place the lots on the market and would not renew its HUD contract with the federal government. 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. 

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University City Townhomes residents Sheldon David (left), Darlene Forman (second from left), Rasheda Alexander (second from right) and Krystal Young (right) led supporters on a protest march on August 8, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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.

Prosters are occupying the University City Townhomes in Philadelphia to support residents facing displacement. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

WHYY has reached out to the property owners for a response regarding Monday’s situation and is still awaiting responses.

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