Bearing colorful signs and banners, thousands of activists from dozens of U.S. cities marched around Philadelphia City Hall on July 22 demanding “Housing now!”
The event was part of the national convention of the Center for Popular Democracy. Speakers from Philadelphia’s housing movement, including Darlene Foreman and Mel Hairston of Save the UC Townhomes Coalition, and Mohan Seshadri with the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance of Pennsylvania. State Sen. Nikil Saval and City Council member Jamie Gauthier also spoke.In her speech, Foreman essentially gave a status report on the two-year-long struggle to save UC Townhomes, one of the last predominantly African American-occupied, affordable housing developments in Philadelphia’s University City area.
In late April, the city reached an agreement with Altman Management/IBID, the entity that owns and manages the UC Townhomes, on the fate of the residential complex. “The agreement stipulates that 20% of the 2.7-acre lot will be preserved and transferred to the city to be developed as 74 units of affordable housing.
Residents, forced to leave the complex after Altman decided in July 2021 that it would not renew its 40-year contract to manage the property as Section 8 housing, will also receive $50,000 apiece in compensation. Altman/IBID is free to sell the remaining 80% of the property at market rate, likely to be developed as office or laboratory space in what has become a burgeoning medical research corridor.” (tinyurl.com/yeaw5kwk )
The city’s agreement resulted from two years of sustained collective action through the UC Townhomes Coalition. Mass actions such as the 31-day encampment on the site; dozens of rallies that included disrupting University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill’s first convocation and Penn’s homecoming game on Franklin Field; and numerous meetings with public officials. That is how the people forced the city to do something!
Foreman said: “It’s not right that thousands of families in this city are losing their subsidized housing every year. And now we are still fighting for the right to return to the site once the city redevelops a part of it for what they are calling affordable housing.
“We know how it works though. If we aren’t at the table, they will not choose a developer who cares about the people. We want to be part of the process of choosing the right developer, one who will make sure there is a subsidy so people on fixed incomes can live there.”
Foreman explained: “We have been meeting with the city and with PHA [Pennsylvania Housing Authority], but they keep giving us the runaround. They say they have no idea how long it will take and who is in charge.”
But she stressed: “We say, we don’t believe it. Give us a concrete timeline. Give us a real place at the table. Treat us with respect. You have torn apart our community. Your bulldozers will come and tear down all our green space and our courtyards. We are in mourning. But we want to come back!”