University City Townhomes residents and advocates called the recent settlement between the property's developers and the city of Philadelphia a victory, with some caveats.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, the residents said that while they consider the settlement a win, it is only the first step in a continued struggle to preserve affordable housing. During the conference, five residents spoke to a crowd through loudspeakers, before moving to the streets to voice their demands.
The settlement, which marks the end to a lawsuit between IBID Associates and Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and the City of Philadelphia, requires IBID to transfer a 23,595-square-foot parcel of the land to the City for the development of 70 permanently affordable units and community green space.
However, residents who were fighting to preserve the entire Townhomes property said that this allocation — which comprises about 20% of the 2.6-acre property and can be used to create up to 75 units with a mix of one, two, and three bedrooms — is insufficient.
“Less than a fifth [of the property] is not nearly enough to meet the great need for affordable housing in our community,” Sheldon Davids, a member of the People’s Townhomes Resident Council, said. “Nonetheless, this is still a victory. Had we not fought back, we would likely have received 0% of this site for affordable housing.”
Residents also expressed disappointment about the affordability standards that the settlement lays out for the allocated affordable housing. In the settlement, IBID and the city agreed on rent limits for each unit that are most affordable for residents whose income is between 60% and 80% of the average median income, opening up the property to people with higher incomes.
The residents said that they will continue to fight for the property rent limit to be most affordable for residents whose income is at 30% of the average median income. They said that rates based on 30% will allow all the current residents to remain in the community after redevelopment. With the current rent limit targets, the residents said that seniors and residents living on fixed incomes would be left behind and forced to relocate.
The speakers also said that the tenant fund of $3.5 million to address relocation costs was not enough money, noting that the funding will be taxed. The money, administered by the nonprofit United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, is equivalent to about $50,000 per household.
“This payment may seem like a large amount of money to working-class people, but let's be clear, this is a far cry from the equitable compensation for being pushed out of your community in the name of greed,” Davids said.
Under the settlement, IBID is allowed to begin demolishing vacant units on the site. Beginning Aug. 15, IBID can also file eviction cases against residents still living in the Townhomes.
After addressing the provisions of the settlement, the residents said that their vision for the future of the Townhomes includes keeping the site permanently affordable, improved disability accommodations, multiple-room units, community-oriented and green spaces, and resident participation in the planning process.
"From the day that we made the decision to opt out of the Section 8 Agreement after nearly 40 years of operating the Townhomes, our preference was to build a campus that would create jobs, including jobs for residents of the West Philadelphia community, and generate major new investment in the city," IBID previously wrote in a statement to the DP.
The calls come as UC Townhomes residents have joined with Penn and Drexel students and housing activists to organize against the sale since it was announced. At Penn, student organizers and community members have held demonstrations demanding University support for the residents at the Class of 2026 Convocation, President Liz Magill's inauguration, and during this year's Homecoming football game.
As part of the settlement, Penn will help fund a coalition to provide support services to the tenants along with other University City institutions.
Davids said that this settlement illustrates the extent of the affordable housing crisis in Philadelphia and highlighted the UC Townhomes as a culmination of these collective struggles.
"We are the canary in the coal mine," Davids said.