Residents, organizers, and activists set up an encampment at the University City Townhomes on July 10 to protest the sale of 70 units of affordable housing.
The Save the UC Townhomes Coalition organized the encampment at the entrance of the townhomes on 40th and Market streets without a distinct end date in mind, and is now two weeks deep into the protest. Residents and supporters are sleeping outside of the housing complex to illustrate the effects of displacement, aiming to challenge their Sept. 7 eviction.
Altman Management Company, the real estate firm that owns the townhomes, did not renew a 40-year contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, forcing the residents to be evicted by September — a date recently extended from July 8. In a statement, the firm called the protest “unfortunate and ill-advised."
28-year-long resident Darlene Foreman is a member of the resident council which agreed to erect tents on the grass of the affordable housing complex. “People think that this is a homeless encampment, this is not,'' Foreman told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “This is a result of what can happen to people who are displaced.”
Residents including Lynn Green, who has lived in the townhomes for almost 30 years, plan to have the encampment in place “as long as we can push for what we need, and what should be done."
Resident Sheldon Davids, who has lived in the townhomes for 13 years, said supporters and community members sleeping overnight at the encampment exhibit unity within the larger community. “The residents are not alone in their demands. Residents are not alone in their situation,” Davids told the DP.
The encampment is among the many actions, including marches, teach-ins, and block parties the coalition is organizing to protest the sale of the housing complex. Demands of the residents include more communication with the owner of Altman Management, Brett Altman.
Resident and organizer Rasheda Alexander has been sleeping in a tent outside of her home.
“I really think all of this could have been prevented had [Altman] had a conversation with us and said he would be able to find adequate housing for everyone,” Alexander said.
“We've been trying to get a meeting with him for nine months or more, and he does not respond to us,” Foreman noted.
In response to the encampment, Altman Management has closed the property’s leasing office for residents and briefly shut down their laundry room, stating that the protesters “have no legal right to assemble on the site or access public utilities [of the townhomes]."
The land of the UC Townhomes is in University City — a continuingly gentrifying part of Philadelphia historically known as the Black Bottom. Activists argue the expansion of local universities including Penn forces the displacement of primarily Black and Brown people in West Philadelphia.
Residents had a meeting with Interim President Wendell Pritchett and other top Penn officials in May to discuss the sale of the UC Townhomes. No coalition demands were met at the time of the meeting.
In a statement to the DP, Director of Media Relations Ron Ozio said: “We are sympathetic to the challenges that the residents are facing as they anticipate relocation. There is a limit to anything that the University can do, as this is a matter between the property owners, the city, and the tenants. We continue to encourage regular and clear communications from the property manager to the residents and are hopeful that a positive resolution will be achieved soon.”
While the townhomes eviction remains a legal issue between tenant and owner, Foreman argues that Penn is still much to blame. “Penn is opening up all of this student housing for people. What about the residents that live in this area, whose properties you're taking?” Foreman stated.
Davids added that residents of the townhomes put a banner near the entrance of the encampment dawning the name “The People's Townhomes” with "UC" crossed out, underscoring the residents' protest against University City gentrification and the resulting displacement.
"The townhomes is a community, so we're not just talking about people being removed from roofs over their heads that have housed families, in many instances, at least two generations. What we're talking about is the connotations of that in terms of the broader community," said Davids.