Hundreds of protestors rallied against the impending eviction of University City Townhomes residents on Wednesday evening at Philadelphia City Hall, prompting council members to release statements in solidarity with residents.
Residents and supporters gathered in front of City Hall at 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, demanding that the property owner of the townhomes, Altman Management, extend its affordable housing contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for two years or sell the townhomes to a third party to preserve the existing rent.
Protestors shut down traffic lanes in front of City Hall and carried signs that read “Housing is a Human Right” and “Stop Displacement, Invest In Our Communities.” The Wednesday protest marked the original date that the UC Townhomes residents were scheduled to be evicted before it was postponed to Oct. 8.
UC Townhomes resident Sheldon Davids, who addressed the protestors in a speech, told the crowd that he and other tenants are unable to find housing or have to settle for substandard housing due to the lack of time, WHYY reported.
“It is cruel to keep people in limbo from month to month instead of simply giving us a full year or two. We have been fighting to be treated with dignity for the last 11 months,” Davids told WHYY.
The group also called for federal, state, and local governments to provide the financial assistance necessary to preserve affordable housing in Philadelphia.
The day after the protest, Philadelphia City Councilmembers Helen Gym — a 1993 College graduate — and Kendra Brooks released a joint statement in support of extending the federal contact with HUD and "committing city dollars" to ensure affordability.
“After meeting with the UC Townhomes Residents’ Council, we strongly support a one-year extension of the federal contract with Housing and Urban Development,” they wrote. “We must not accept the displacement of dozens of Black families as a foregone conclusion without exhausting every possible outlet.”
Gym and Brooks also wrote that housing stability is especially crucial for UC Townhomes children attending public schools. They wrote that city and federal support for a preservation fund to provide access to permanent affordable housing for low-income families is an important "legal and moral commitment to fair housing and neighborhood integration."
UC Townhomes residents and supporters interrupted Convocation during Penn President Liz Magill’s first speech to students on Aug. 29, where they also distributed flyers containing information about the Sept. 7 protest.
The fate of the UC Townhomes may set a precedent for hundreds of other residents in West Philadelphia. According to a press advisory released hours before the protest, HUD’s affordable housing contracts with 37 other properties are set to expire within the next five years.
Residents who spoke to WHYY dubbed the protest the “start of [a] movement.”
“There’s a war right now,” UC Townhomes resident Melvin Hairston said. “They want to bring the war to the people? We bringing it right back to them!”