By JOHN CAST
On April 21, residents of the beleaguered UC Townhomes in Philadelphia, who have been fighting an unjust mass eviction by property manager Altman Group/IBID, announced a significant partial victory, after nearly two years of resistance.
According to the Savetheuctownhomes Instagram page: “After a two-year struggle, in which residents of ‘The People’s’ Townhomes fought back against plans to displace one of the few remaining, predominantly Black, affordable housing developments in that area of West Philadelphia, the City and property owners, Altman Management/IBID, settle an ongoing lawsuit over the property.
“Today’s Settlement was shaped in part by over two years of Townhomes Residents fighting back to demand the City and local universities hold large developers accountable to increasing displacement throughout the city.”
Among other minor concessions, the victory involves a substantial increase in financial assistance to the 70 displaced families, and a $3.5 million settlement paid by Altman Group (roughly $50,000 per household) to cover relocation costs. A part of the land that the People’s Townhomes currently sits on will also be devoted to “affordable housing.”
The People’s Townhomes continues the fight
At the spirited press conference, rally, and march, residents who have been leading the fight spoke to a crowed of 100 community supporters about the hope generated by this victory. But they also pointed out the settlement’s many shortcomings. Chief among these, they said, is the failure to guarantee current residents their right of return, once the new housing is complete.
In addition, only a fraction (19%) of the current site will be devoted to “affordable housing” as such. Worse still, the residents have been demanding that “affordability” be pegged to 30% of Area Median Income (AMI), while the current settlement covered, at most, 60% AMI. Indeed, for true affordability to low income people, seniors, and the disabled, not just in Philadelphia but around the country, affordability for people who hit 30% AMI is far more reasonable.
Given these drastic shortcomings, the People’s Townhomes residents have decided to continue the push for greater concessions from the city of Philadelphia and Altman. Since Altman Group retains the right to develop the land as they please, beyond the meager concessions offered in this settlement, Townhomes residents are demanding that residents be included in the redevelopment process. This is a basic democratic demand, which needs to be fought for across the country, in order to curb the dictatorship of wealthy landowners.
The struggle for housing in Philadelphia and the U.S.
As mentioned in our previous article, and repeatedly by UC Townhomes residents themselves, this is not an isolated struggle for housing but a huge problem in Philadelphia. Across the city, and especially in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, 37 for-profit subsidized housing properties will expire within four years (containing 1917 units) and an additional 18 non-profit properties will also expire in that time (containing 553 units). West Philadelphia (District 3) contains the majority of these units.
In other words, a major eviction crisis by capitalist property developers is threatening working-class communities across the city. That is not to mention a host of other problems facing renters—including spiraling rents; disheveled, dirty, pest-filled living conditions; toxic air and water; and the destruction of green spaces.
The housing crisis is a danger to the quality of life, and indeed the very life, of countless working-class communities. As we reported recently: “A record number of U.S. renters, including 45% of households who make $30,000 to $45,000, spent more than 30% of their income on rent in 2021, up from just over 24% in 2019. There is a shortage of 7.3 million affordable rental homes available to low-income renters. The housing crisis is driving an upsurge in houselessness, with nearly 600,000 people in the U.S. unhoused on any given night—a slight increase over pre-COVID numbers. A one-bedroom rental home is only affordable for a full-time minimum-wage worker in one percent of U.S. counties.”
The UC Townhomes, or rather, the People’s Townhomes, exists at the front line of these struggles and deserves the support of all working-class Philadelphians.
Photo: John Cast / Workers’ Voice