Court evictions order won’t stop UC Townhome protests

Philadelphia 

University City Townhomes residents resisting eviction responded to news that owner IBID Associates had secured a court order July 22 to disband a protest encampment at the site, saying the decision will not stop their protests. 

University City Townhomes encampment. WW PHOTO: Joe Piette

The court order was issued by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Joshua Roberts. Members of the UC Townhomes Coalition said that even if the Sheriff’s Office takes down the encampment, their protests will continue.  

Coalition members responded with a statement in defense of Black autonomy against corporate developers and the city and invited supporters to unite with them in peaceful resistance. “At stake here is Black self-determination — including residents’ exercise of political speech on private property. All residents have the right to organize against corporate landlords. They are fighting to keep their children and elders safe and save their community from displacement in the face of state and corporate violence.”  

Recognizing that Philadelphia is a union town, the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition and the Philly Workers Solidarity Network issued a call urging city sanitation workers, represented by AFSCME, and other union members to not cooperate with property owners in removing the encampment. The call notes that union members have a stake in the battle against gentrification and for affordable housing.  

UC Townhomes resident Sheldon Davids, a member of District Council 33 AFSCME Local 696, stated: “This particular instance concerns the families [who] reside at UC Townhomes; their impending vulnerability reflects that which befalls a massive and increasing amount of disenfranchised people across our city. Disenfranchisement is a wall, which sustained union efforts have sought to chip away at in its pursuit for a better standard of living for all. We ask you to chip away with us.” To sign the call:  tinyurl.com/bdhbe2h8 

Lack of affordable housing creates ‘potentially hazardous conditions’ 

The encampment of 15 tents was set up July 9 at the conclusion of a day-long Philly 4 Housing Fest to Save the UC Townhomes, protesting the owner’s plans to evict the 70 low-income families and sell the property to developers. People occupying the tents include residents and supporters vetted by residents. All involved have worked to make sure that the protest encampment is a safe and secure place.  

The over two-week tent protest has garnered broad media attention that was lacking prior to the action. The residents put up large protest signs, including one which covers most of the street side of a SEPTA transit entrance just outside the property.  

Property owner, IBID Associates, a subsidiary of the Altman Group, claimed they were concerned that the tenants’ supporters are trespassing on the property and posing security concerns. In a statement to the court, IBID Associates said protesters were creating an unsafe and “potentially hazardous condition.” 

For IBID to suddenly express concerns for the residents they plan to evict Sept. 7, with no plans or support for where they will live, smacks of extreme hypocrisy. Even with federal housing vouchers, residents fear city landlords won’t take the vouchers because of the ongoing shortage of affordable housing. And residents don’t want to uproot their lives from a community they have lived in for over 40 years.  

IBID originally bought the property from Philadelphia for $1 in 1983 to construct the low-income subsidized housing units, located in what little remains of an historic Black community, long targeted by gentrifiers. After benefitting from decades of state and federal financial assistance from tax credits and housing subsidies, realtor Brett Altman now plans to demolish the Townhomes and sell the land for up to $100 million. 

Putting families out on the street, without the financial means to secure housing in a city where rents average $2,000 a month, is the real hazard. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in University City, where UC Townhomes are located, is $2,542. 

Making matters worse, 1,700 low-income housing units at 37 sites, in addition to University City Townhomes, currently have contracts with Housing and Urban Development set to expire within the next five years. Housing activists fear many owners of those properties will sell to gentrifiers rather than renew their HUD contracts.

Betsey Piette

Betsey.Piette@workers.org

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Betsey Piette

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