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Police Free Penn hosted an event last Thursday to save the University City Townhomes.

Credit: Leo Biehl

More than 35 Penn community members attended a teach-in to save the University City Townhomes last Thursday. During the event, speakers expressed concern for the hundreds of local residents at risk of eviction from the University City Townhomes, federally subsidized housing units on 39th and Market streets.

Real estate firm Altman Management Company currently owns the University City Townhomes, but has not renewed a 40-year contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to maintain the area as low-income housing. As a result, the residents of the townhomes, the majority of whom identify as Black and low-income, face an eviction scheduled for this July.

The event was hosted at W.E.B. DuBois College House by Police Free Penn in collaboration with the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes, a local group comprised of Penn faculty and students, the Black Bottom tribe, housing justice organizers, and West Philadelphia community members. The Coalition's primary demand is for guaranteed permanent, affordable, and safe housing for the current residents of the townhomes.

DuBois College House Faculty Fellow and Graduate School of Education assistant professor Krystal Strong, who spoke at the teach-in, emphasized the importance of spreading awareness of the University City Townhomes due to its proximity to campus and Penn's complicated history with West Philadelphia residents.

"It is really appropriate for us to be thinking about the impact of this campus, the impact of this University on a community very close to us in particular, the University City Townhomes," Strong said. "We don't expect that you know everything about the relationship about Penn and Philadelphia, and specifically about Black communities in our immediate surrounding areas, but this is an opportunity for us to become aware and be activated by our awareness.”

Activists and speakers at the event also criticized Penn for contributing to the historical displacement of Black residents in the Black Bottom neighborhood and the current displacement of residents with rising costs of living in West Philadelphia.

West Philadelphia resident and Drexel first-year Matijanay Tiggle attended the event and said she wasn’t aware of the sale of the UC Townhomes.

"I'm trying to learn more about the community. Even though I am from here, a lot of times community members don't know about the things that go on here," Tiggle said.

College sophomore and Police Free Penn member Jack Starobin, who is a former DP reporter, helped facilitate the event on campus. Starobin said he hopes that students recognize their responsibility to support Black Philadelphians, especially when considering Penn's history of displacing Black residents. 

"We walk on stolen ground, and it is our responsibility as a beneficiary of past wrongdoings to reverse them and support the people who are demanding it back," Starobin said.

The Coalition hosted its first rally on the UC Townhomes last December and will continue to host teach-ins, bringing in Townhome residents to speak to students, according to Strong.

"This is not the only conversation we are going to have, because once we understand, we have a responsibility to act," Strong said.