By COOPER B.
The UC Townhomes is a low-income housing development in West Philadelphia (40th & Market Streets) that is currently home to 68 families. The UC Townhomes Coalition is a resident-led group currently fighting the eviction of the residents by the property owner, Brett Altman. Altman reportedly plans to sell the land that the UCTH sits on for $100M.
The block of homes is adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania. When most of the Black Bottom, a historically Black neighborhood, was torn down in the 1960s to make way for university-related buildings, protests erupted. The construction of the UC Townhomes was a concession given to some of the displaced residents. Now that concession is being taken away.
From the UCTH website : “On July 8, 2021, owner Brett Altman informed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that it would not renew its federal tax subsidy and would put the property up for sale on July 8, 2022. […] UC Townhomes tenants were given notice that they would have to move by July 8th, 2022 but as of August 2022 many have not received a housing voucher from HUD to begin looking for a new place to live. […] As anyone who has tried to find a Philadelphia landlord who will accept housing vouchers as a form of payment can tell you, this is a near impossible task on such a short time frame.”
The land that the UC Townhomes sits upon is owned by the IBID Group—in reality, a subsidiary of the Altman group. The Altman Group is a property developer, and like many corporations of its kind, the company specializes in the purchase and sale of land for profit. The housing of human beings is of secondary concern for land developers, with a return on investment being the primary motivator. The city of Philadelphia has now become a real-estate boomtown, and the area around the Townhomes is a hotbed for expensive (profitable) high-rise commercial projects for labs and office space.
The residents have been fighting the eviction and sale for 11 months, reaching out to many media outlets, neighbors, and social justice organizations. They are demanding a halt to the sale and demolition of the homes. And if the residents end up being forced out, they are demanding a two-year extension to find replacement housing, plus just compensation of $500,000 per family.
In mid-July of this year the residents set up an encampment with makeshift barricades at the site, as a physical testament to their resistance. Since the campaign has been in motion, the official eviction date has been delayed multiple times. After a judge ordered the encampment torn down, law enforcement was sluggish to take down the site, with the colonizers in IBID wanting to seek “legal remedies” to remove “the trespassers” (!) from the site.
Eventually, sheriff’s deputies and police were sent in to dismantle the encampment, as protesters chanted, “Housing is a human right!” But the residents at UCTH state that they are still going to fight, as many of them do not have alternatives. At a recent public meeting of residents and supporters, members of the Coalition affirmed that the fight is far from over and that they are ready for a new phase of the struggle.
The people of the UCTH are on the front lines of the fight against Black displacement and capitalist theft of the land. The city government of Philadelphia sees the business interests of the wealthy as a priority, over the needs of people who will be harmed by this displacement. The attitude of the authorities is self-evident when the people who live here are referred to as “trespassers,” and the city obediently sends in the cops to tear people out of their own homes at the bidding of Brett Altman. Our current ruling governments serve the interests of the wealthy and not of the people.
If the UCTH falls, it will make it all the more difficult to resist other evictions in Philadelphia. Across the city are 37 properties of for-profit subsidized housing expiring within five years (containing 1917 units) and an additional 18 non-profit properties also expiring within five years (containing 553 units). West Philadelphia (District 3) contains the majority of these units. This risk of eviction is particularly stark when we consider the green-washing that corporations like the Altman Group engage in, as can be seen from their website. They like to spiff up their brand with fake environmentalism, but clearly fail to respect life.
Workers Voice stands in solidarity with the residents of the UCTH. It will be necessary to continue the fight against gentrification until working people have a government of our own. Such a government of the people could go quite far to provide free quality housing, green spaces in our cities, and improve existing housing. The use of equipment and labor for new construction would prioritize the needs of working people and the active restoration of ecosystems once destroyed by capitalist management.
Photo: Members of the UC Townhomes Residents Council at a protest in Philadelphia. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Inquirer)