Encampment removed outside low-income townhomes that are set to be demolished in University City

A group of tenants and housing activists set up more than a dozen tents in the courtyard.

Katie Katro Image
Monday, August 8, 2022
Encampment removed outside low-income townhomes in West Philadelphia
Protesters who set up an encampment in West Philadelphia were ordered to leave on Monday morning.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An encampment outside an affordable housing complex in University City is no more.

Law enforcement moved in Monday morning and cleared it out. The protesters say the tents represented how they will be living once the building is sold to a developer.

Tensions rose in University City, as protestors blocked off the intersection around 40th and Market streets.

A group of tenants and housing activists had set up more than a dozen tents in the courtyard of University City Townhomes.

"Our statement of defiance against the owner that they're trying to take us from these houses," said resident Melvin Hairston.

Despite a court order to move out, tents remained outsid until about 9 a.m.. That's when the sheriff's office moved in to remove the tents.

The management group, Altman Management Company, has announced plans to sell the property.

They will also end its affordable housing contract. Residents have until September 7 to move out.

"If you concentrate on the spectrum of the end, we're going to wrap ourselves in knots of anxiety rather than take the time each day that is available to us to figure out what to do next," said resident David S.

The plan is for townhomes to be demolished and transformed into a bigger and more expensive development. Residents were given housing vouchers to find new homes.

Rasheda Alexander says after 14 years here, she hasn't been able to find a new place to live

"Every day that we call a housing complex and ask them about housing and they tell us no, or they deny us because we have a voucher, that's another step back," said Rasheda Alexander, a resident.

The 70 unit complex has provided 40 years of low-income housing for University City families

The Sheriff's office said on Monday at 9 a.m., a judge of the Court of Common Pleas ordered that the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office oversee the safe and orderly removal of tents, fencing, posters and signs from the encampment on the private property of the University City Townhomes.

The Sheriff's Office sent Action News this statement saying in part:

"The lack of affordable housing is an important issue that needs to be addressed by the legislative and executive branches, who may be able to offer another solution to this growing problem.

As many of you know, Sheriff Bilal remains sympathetic to this issue of displacement and will continue to assist in the needs of the underserved population in Philadelphia. As such, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal remains steadfast on keeping people in their homes.

Any criticism of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Rochelle Bilal related to the enforcement of a court order ejectment is misplaced and misdirected."

The statement goes on to say there is one incident to report, as someone was given a summary citation for disorderly conduct for allegedly assaulting a sheriff's deputy and that individual was sent home.

In addition, no one was removed from the property.

The city sent Action News a statement saying the developer sought this order from the court.

The city says this is a private owner attempting to sell to another private developer.

The city goes on to say, "Regarding the encampment, the City is bound by Court order and is complying with the terms of it; the Sheriff's Office is responsible for clearing the space, per the court order. The property owners have sued the City and Councilmember Gauthier over the legislation that maintains affordable housing at this location. Nonetheless, the City supports improved creation of and access to affordable housing and the property owners' right to sell and develop their property. We remain committed to assisting in finding and supporting a resolution that embraces both goals."

The city said all current tenants have been offered housing vouchers from PHA.