Philadelphia residents fight to keep homes from gentrifiers

Residents of University City Townhomes, nearby University of Pennsylvania students and faculty members, and community anti-gentrification activists rallied March 19 to demand Brett Altman of IBID Associates LP stop plans to demolish the affordable housing structures. 

Residents march against profiteering gentrification, Philadelphia, March 19. WW Photo: Joe Piette

Altman hopes to make millions in profits from “redeveloping” the 2.7-acre city parcel where the 40-year-old, low-income housing is located.

A community meal was made available to the 200 participants before and after a march in the streets around the complex. At the end of the short march, the crowd stood on Market Street where they heard Penn professor Chi-Ming Yang say: “Affordable housing is not a business deal; it is a human right!” 

UC Townhomes resident Darlene Foreman explained, “Our lives have been turned upside down. There are women and children, elderly people, as well as disabled residents on this property. Where are we supposed to go?” 

Resident Rashida Alexander said: “I’m fighting for affordable housing, to stop gentrification. They’ve taken everything, our children’s schools; all of Philadelphia is being gentrified, and people are being displaced. Homelessness is at an all-time high.”

Penn professor Krystal Strong emphasized: “The Townhomes are the literal last sign of Black people in this so-called University City. When we say ‘Save Townhomes,’ we are talking about saving Philadelphia for Black people.”

Black activist Dr. Walter Palmer explained how the original name for what is now known as University City was “The Black Bottom.” (The area’s history and struggle against gentrification at theblackbottom.wordpress.com/.)

Demands of the 69 families who live in UC Townhomes include:

Stop the demolition. In a city where 26% of residents live below the poverty line of $24,600 and the city has no citywide plan for preserving or constructing low-income housing, putting Townhomes residents out of their homes should not be allowed.

Give residents more time to find housing past the eviction date of July 8. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the scarcity of low-income housing, many residents also have disabilities, poor credit or other barriers to contend with in finding new homes.

Make immediate repairs. Sewage leaks, rats, roaches, uncollected garbage and lack of repairs have all created unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Residents demand Altman meet with them to address these issues.

Provide just compensation. Brett Altman, having received the land for $1 in 1982 and benefitting from 40 years of state and federal financial assistance in the form of tax credits and housing subsidies, now stands to sell the same land for up to $100 million. Residents demand $500,000 financial compensation per family, amounting to 35% of the total sale price.

One of the last speakers, longtime activist Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, put it all together when she said, “It is our duty to stand up and fight!”

More on how to join this struggle at savetheUCTownhomes.com.

Joe Piette

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Joe Piette

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