‘I’m just in survival mode’: UC Townhomes deadline looms as mother searches for affordable housing

Rasheda Alexander has roughly two months to move out of University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia.

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A woman smiles slightly and looks upwards.

Rasheda Alexander at her UC Townhomes apartment in September 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Rasheda Alexander is waiting for her housing search to turn from burden to blessing.

She’s no stranger to setbacks and overcoming obstacles, including the 11-month stretch in her early 20s when she was homeless with her then 2-year-old daughter after the end of a bad relationship left them with nowhere to live. Or the freak accident that came shortly afterward that sidelined her for years with unbearable back pain.

But Alexander, 35, said nothing she’s experienced in her adult life has been as hard and exhausting as the months she’s spent looking for a new home, even though she’s eager to move.

She said she feels like she’s operating in survival mode, taking one day at a time.

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“If I focused on everything that I am encountering as we speak, I would probably lose my mind,” Alexander said recently inside the two-bedroom apartment she’s shared with her daughter for nearly 15 years.

A woman stands, smiling, in the center of her living room.
Rasheda Alexander at her UC Townhomes apartment in September 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Alexander lives at the University City Townhomes, and she has roughly two months before the latest deadline for residents to move out of the 70-unit affordable housing complex in West Philadelphia.

IBID Associates, the property owner, has again extended its contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this time through the end of January, according to a spokesperson for the company.

The complex is now more than half empty, further adding to the pressure of relocating for remaining residents like Alexander.

“People are still feeling the crunch,” she said.

All tenants were offered a housing voucher after IBID decided in July 2021 to sell the valuable site that contains the blocklong complex at 40th and Market streets, potentially to a life sciences developer.

With the voucher, they can continue paying 30% of their adjusted monthly income in rent, with HUD covering the difference within set limits, whether the apartment is in Philadelphia or elsewhere in the country.

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Alexander, who has a full-time job working with the city’s homeless population, has been searching for a new place since July.

She said finding landlords that are even willing to consider taking her voucher has been difficult.

She’s also determined to leave Philadelphia, adding another layer to her search because every housing authority has the discretion to adopt its own policies for its voucher program.

In Alexander’s case, that’s left her gearing up for a fight with the housing authority in the county where she wants to move.

A woman stands at the door of her apartment.
Rasheda Alexander at her UC Townhomes apartment in September 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

She was recently told she and her now 17-year-old daughter would have to share a bedroom because they’re both women. That is unless Alexander can find a way to shell out hundreds more than the value of her voucher for a two-bedroom place.

“And the apartments are already small,” Alexander said.”I feel like we’re being penalized for having vouchers,”

Penalized for being low-income.

For wanting to leave Philadelphia.

The stress of it all has taken a toll on her, mentally and physically, she said, making it hard for her to even envision herself in a new apartment.

She’s found herself forgetting important appointments and having more frequent stomach issues related to her gastritis.

“It’s very, very, very, very, very, very overwhelming. Very frustrating. A lot of times it’s discouraging,” said Alexander, an active member of the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition.

While many of her neighbors are electing to stay in Philadelphia, Alexander wants to leave the city and even the state, largely because of the city’s ongoing gun violence crisis, which has claimed the lives of so many young people this year.

Last week, four Overbrook High School students were shot near the school soon after they were dismissed early for Thanksgiving break.

In late September, an after school shooting near Roxborough High School left 14-year-old Nicolas Elizalde dead and four others wounded.

The deadly incident unfolded as the young football players were leaving a junior varsity scrimmage between three schools.

“I pray over my baby’s safety every day. Every day. Because the shootings, the beatings, just everything. Like it’s so traumatizing. Sometimes I fear for her to even go to school. Like, at this point, I just want her to be home-schooled,” Alexander said.

As she pushes on, Alexander is trying to focus on the silver linings of her situation.

People walk down the street in a protest.
Rasheda Alexander (center) protests the closing of the UC Townhomes in August 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For example, she takes comfort in her faith and the community that formed to fight against the closure of the complex.

“I don’t have the option to be relaxed about certain things in life because I don’t have anybody really. It’s just me and my daughter,” Alexander said. “I have the people that I’m here organizing with that are helping me push through a lot of these things. And I’m pushing myself through with the grace of God.”

Next month, Alexander is traveling to New York to be part of a panel discussion about public housing and gentrification at the Thurgood Marshall Institute, a multidisciplinary center that is part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, according to its website.

And she was recently able to land a new job — one that she can likely hold onto even after she moves.

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