UC Townhome residents gather at City Hall and break up the Affordable Housing Networking Event for Philadelphia Leaders

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect comments from the City Comptroller’s Office. Corrections to the story regarding City Comptroller Rebecca Rhynhart’s limited involvement in the case were also posted.

A rainy forecast on Wednesday, Sept. 7, didn’t deter the University City Townhomes coalition from gathering at Philadelphia City Hall to present new demands following a sale that would displace hundreds of families.

Tensions have risen for residents of low-income housing units after the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department forcibly disbanded an encampment at the behest of the IBID group, following a year of little to no communication with residents about the sale of apartment complexes along Market and 40th streets.

At the time, residents told AL DÍA they would band together and determine their next steps, saying the fight to preserve public housing was far from over.

This week, the coalition working to stop the sale organized the north side of City Hall premises to draw up a list of demands for investors and developers involved in the sale, after months of radio silence from the city ​​officials.

“It’s a problem we can solve in the city and the state. Stand up to developers and support our communities. There is money through state, federal and local governments to preserve affordable housing that is being lost at historic rates in Philadelphia,” one resident said during her speech.

“Our demand and our fight is to create community control of the townhouses, the townhouses of the people, by buying the property. We are also calling on the city to create a fund that would make the preservation of existing affordable housing a reality for our families in townhouses of UC residents and across Philly,” she continued.

Residents devised a plan for Altman and IBID to sell the UC townhouses to a third party who would commit to maintaining the low-income units for seniors and residents. They also called on the city to provide funding to create a viable pathway to affordable housing in all districts, highlighting the urgent need for the seniors and disabled community.

Residents also cited University Square Plaza as an example of government intervention – the units were bought out by the city after the contract with Housing and Urban Development expired.

Altman’s spokesperson previously told AL DÍA in August that they got “help getting tenant protection vouchers that can be used to pay for alternative housing anywhere in the city.” , but sources familiar with the matter say some vouchers arrived as recently as August 2022, a month from the release deadline.

The original deadline set by Altman and IBID was July 2022, but has been subject to delays due to ongoing litigation, following a move pushed by adviser Jamie Gauthier that spooked developers, resulting in legal proceedings.

When the rally ended, residents and activists marched peacefully through the surrounding avenues with minimal police presence. After circling City Hall, protesters moved up Broad Street as helicopters circled above the march, although no intervention from local authorities was reported.

Protesters took to the streets with minimal police presence seen. Photo: Carlos Nogueras/ AL DIA News

The walk ended at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts where, according to a walk organizer, the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia hosted a networking event for local construction companies to discuss affordable housing in the 11th stage.

Building staff attempted to block residents from entering the elevator, residents ascended eleven floors using the stairwell. AL DÍA News observed that a staff member allowed residents through after learning that a majority were already upstairs.

Pictured: The protest reaches the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts
Photo: Carlos Nogueras/ AL DIA News

During the event, attendees could be seen leaving the venue, many of whom avoided any interaction with protesters.

The participants declined interviews with the press.

The eleventh floor of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Art was overwhelmed with UC Townhomes activists, and an exchange began between residents and Gary Jonas, president of BIA, where Bret Altman was also president and currently serves as “director for life “.

“The offer was that people would stay in homes valued at $300,000 with no down payment and they would pay their regular monthly payments and the homes would be subsidized using the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative,” said the leader of the BIA, referring to a plan to relocate residents to the scattered sites in the city.

Pictured: Gary Jonas, President of the BIA
Photo: Carlos Nogueras/ AL DIA News

However, campaigners were quick to note that BIA’s approach of placing residents in said units would lead to unsustainable payments, as many very low-income tenants could fall below the area’s median income of 50% .

At the height of the exchange, General Counsel Kendra Brooks was seen by activists on the balcony, but she did not immediately address the protesters. When asked, Brooks said, “she released a statement in support of UC Townhomes.”

“We must not accept the displacement of dozens of black families as inevitable without exhausting all possible outlets,” Brooks said in a statement.

Read the full remarks here.

“We are past statements. It’s war now. We are in the trenches,” said one resident.

Pictured: At-Large Councilor Kendra Brooks
Photo: Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

Sources close to the coalition tell AL DÍA the target is and continues to be Altman, and they hope Brooks’ support, along with that of other council members, will bring residents to the negotiating table.

The BIA executive agreed during the exchange that behind-the-scenes meetings between city officials and Bret Altman regarding the future of the UC townhouses, without input from residents, were flawed . Although the City Comptroller was seen exiting the premises, a spokesperson for Comptroller Rhynhart’s office confirmed that his involvement, along with that of other local government officials, had already been arranged and confirmed a period one hour attendance.

“Comptroller Rhynhart was invited to attend the event, as were several other elected officials. The Comptroller believes in having conversations with all types of people (…) she attended the event as well as she attends events for different constituencies and community groups,” the spokesperson noted.

While Comptroller Rhynharts could be seen exiting the building as protesters gathered at the networking event, her office confirms that she left at the scheduled time. Activists have not engaged with Comptroller Rhynhart, his office confirms. “We were already due to leave by then and kept on leaving. As we exited the building, we walked through the protest rally in the atrium, but at no point did we hear anyone call the controller’s name. If someone had asked him would have absolutely stopped and spoken to them, but at the time we heard nothing,” the spokesperson added.

At the start of the UC Townhomes protest, the City Comptroller was not involved, but when she heard of the news, her office contacted several parties to assess the overall situation. “His position is to try to build bridges, to try to find solutions that would work for all parties. We will continue to have our door open to meet with residents to try to build a bridge between all parties in the best as we can,” the spokesperson said, while emphasizing the Controller’s continued drive to find solutions that will ultimately prevent the displacement of UC Townhomes residents.

Following the evening’s activity, sources say the actions taken by Council members are not explicit enough.