Hundreds of protesters stopped traffic around City Hall as they rallied in support of University City Townhomes residents who have until October to find a new place to live.
Residents demanded outside investors stop encroaching on housing properties within Philadelphia and called on the city to create a fund to preserve affordable housing.
The rally was held on the same day residents were originally scheduled to be evicted from UC Townhomes; that date has since been delayed to Oct. 8.
UC Townhomes resident Sheldon Davids says people have been having a tough time finding new housing and feel like they have to take substandard housing because of the “time crunch.”
“The imminent eviction is leaving people feeling in distress,” Davids said. “It is cruel to keep people in limbo from month to month instead of simply giving us a full year or two. We have been fighting to be treated with dignity for the last 11 months.”
The West Philly affordable housing complex could potentially be sold after the property owners IBID/Altman Management decided not to renew the HUD contract last year. Industry estimates put the likely sale price near $100 million dollars.
Resident Melvin Hairston criticized members of the city’s government for not intervening on their behalf and said they’re allowing developers to damage communities.
“Everybody knows what’s going on right now unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last eight months,” Hairston said. “There’s a war right now. They want to bring the war to the people? We bringing it right back to them!”
In statements Thursday, City Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Helen Gym called for a one-year extension of UC Townhomes HUD contract. Brooks and Gym also agreed that the City should establish a preservation fund for public housing. You can read the full statement below:
“Housing stability, accessibility, and affordability are among the most fundamental of human rights and the bedrock of a healthy community. It shapes public wellness, community safety, financial stability, and school performance — and it’s why together, we have worked alongside Councilmember Gauthier to transform our city’s housing landscape and restore equal voice and power back to Black and low-income residents who have borne the brunt of an unjust, broken system. This is why we stand in solidarity with the 67 families who call the University City Townhomes home and support their efforts to keep their communities whole.
“A viable solution must center the voices and wellbeing of the longtime residents of the UC Townhomes. After meeting with the UC Townhomes Residents’ Council, we strongly support a one-year extension of the federal contract with Housing and Urban Development. This is especially important for resident families with children in public schools; children should not be uprooted from their schools and academic support networks. We support committing city dollars to more comprehensively preserve affordable housing in our city and call on our state and federal leaders to match these investments. As we face the likelihood of more expiring HUD contracts, we must establish a preservation fund and allow residents time to organize and access self-determined housing solutions.
“We must continue to pursue novel policies, like those advanced by Councilmember Gauthier, which incentivize the preservation and creation of affordable housing in an amenity-rich portion of West Philly that includes the Townhomes site and uphold our legal and moral commitment to fair housing and neighborhood integration. Ultimately, the responsibility for this crisis is not on city government alone. We need a federal recommitment to fund and build public housing, and we believe that tax exempt institutions, which have helped drive the increase in housing prices and residential segregation, must now proactively support long-term and permanent housing affordability.
“The UC Townhomes crisis underscores the complex nature of this challenge and makes evident that conventional solutions to this problem were never going to be sufficient. Philadelphia has proven that we can transform preconceptions around housing injustices with bold policies. We must not accept the displacement of dozens of Black families as a foregone conclusion without exhausting every possible outlet.”
Activists and residents called for UC Townhomes property owners to sell it to a third party who will maintain it as affordable housing. Residents also said they are working to acquire the housing complex, however no concrete plants were announced.
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. According to the UC Townhomes coalition, 68 families are being impacted by the eviction.