UC Townhomes residents face court hearing as landlords work to break up encampment

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)

For two weeks, residents at University City Townhomes have been protesting the potential sale and redevelopment of the complex. Now, the landlords seek to legally break up the encampment.

IBID Associates is looking to remove residents and advocates protesting at the West Philadelphia housing complex. According to one supporter, none of the residents were served notices to appear in person. An attorney was not present for the defendants in Thursday’s hearing conducted via Zoom in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Akira Rodriguez appeared in support of UC Townhomes residents, though she is not an attorney.

“I think people are aware that this Zoom is happening right now, but people were not sure since they were not individually served if they should appear,” Rodriguez said. “And this happened also less than 24 hours ago. So the ability to retain an attorney was impossible.”

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An in-person hearing is slated for 3 p.m. Friday at City Hall. Daniel McElhatton, who represents IBID, says he’s prepared to have witnesses testify that residents were served notices.

“Marla Beckett, who is the manager at the site accompanied by security, personally served copies of the Ex Parte Rule, a copy of the motion for extraordinary relief, with the complaint attached and the memorandum,” McElhatton said. “They were served to anyone who would take it from their hands and they placed them on the tables that are around on the site.”

The Save the UC Townhomes Coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.” An encampment at the property began soon after. In an interview with WHYY News on Sunday, organizers said they had no plans to leave anytime soon.

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Since then, residents have been subject to a lack of services, with the complex laundry room and office both closed.

The townhomes are situated in University City, what was once a majority-Black neighborhood known as 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.

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

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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