Philly Households Confronted With Eviction Are Rising Up, Refusing to Depart Their Properties

“I need you to combat, I need you to prepare, I need you to speak to your neighbors, I need you to have a gathering, I need you to get a spreadsheet and simply the identical means that we will set up a barbecue, we will all determine what it means to truly take management of a few of these housing items,” says organizer Sterling Johnson. On this episode, host Kelly Hayes talks with Johnson and UC Townhome resident Rasheda Alexander about gentrification, organized abandonment and an ongoing wrestle in West Philadelphia, the place dozens of households are resisting the demolition of a 70-unit housing improvement.

Music by Son Monarcas and Amaranth Cove


Observe: This a rush transcript and has been flippantly edited for readability. Copy will not be in its closing kind.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Motion Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity, and the work of creating change. I’m your host, author and organizer Kelly Hayes. Numerous struggles over land and housing are unfolding across the nation, as individuals are repeatedly displaced, and municipalities turn into more and more hostile to unhoused individuals. Previous to the pandemic, about 2.7 million individuals per yr confronted eviction within the U.S. Whereas the federal eviction moratorium briefly lowered these numbers, evictions are actually at, or in some locations, above pre-pandemic ranges. Tenant unions have grown in reputation in Chicago, New York, and different cities the place tenants are banding collectively to combat evictions, utility shut-offs, and rising rents, whereas demanding higher situations, and even hire cancellations. The wrestle of unhoused individuals, combating for tent house can’t be separated from the wrestle of tenants going through displacement, or staff who face publicity to COVID with out mitigations or monetary reduction. As a result of these crises, that are all created by the calls for of capitalism, are a part of the identical cycle of abandonment and disposal.

Whether or not it’s the mass manufacturing of untimely dying by way of the jail system, mass evictions, or the continual pressured relocation of unhoused individuals, we’re speaking concerning the penalties of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls organized abandonment. As Gilmore defined in an episode of Intercepted, during the last 40 years, as alternatives have dissipated and security nets have been slashed, giant numbers of individuals “have misplaced the power to maintain their particular person selves, their households, and their communities along with enough revenue, clear water, cheap air, dependable shelter, and transportation and communication infrastructure.” Gilmore tells us that “as these issues have gone away, what’s risen up within the crevices of this cracked basis of safety has been policing and jail.”

Contact with the legal system can also be used to disqualify individuals from public housing, so we’ve got to know how the carceral state and what geographer Samuel Stein calls the “actual property state” work in live performance to displace, include and eradicate people who find themselves thought of surplus. Organized abandonment legitimizes itself by delegitimizing the deserted.

In the present day, we’re speaking about gentrification, organized abandonment and an ongoing wrestle in West Philadelphia, the place dozens of households are resisting the demolition of a 70-unit housing improvement. We’re going to hear from two individuals concerned with that wrestle right now — Rasheda Alexander and Sterling Johnson. Rasheda is a resident of the UC Townhomes and a pacesetter on this wrestle. Sterling Johnson is an organizer with Philadelphia Housing Motion and a PhD scholar at Temple College.

The story of the UC Townhomes embodies the idea of organized abandonment, and I feel anybody who is anxious with gentrification, displacement, or resisting the destruction of communities and the disposal of human beings, would actually profit from listening to what these organizers must say. As somebody who spends a variety of time fascinated with how we will construct from under on this period of apocalyptic capitalism, I discovered Rasheda’s breakdown of what the Townhomes group is up towards shifting, insightful and instructive.

Rasheda Alexander: So I got here right here, I stuffed out an software in 2008. Previous to me coming right here, I used to be homeless for about 11 months with my daughter. I’ve been right here for 14 years. After I first moved round right here, it was “The Backside.” No person actually wished to return to The Backside. Quite a lot of the homes had been in unhealthy situation. I lived at all times on Market Road, so I didn’t actually get to expertise how tough it was till I walked previous Lancaster Avenue. No person wished to go previous Lancaster Avenue at one level. No person even wished to essentially go throughout Haverford Avenue as a result of [laughs] it was like, “No, it’s unhealthy over there.” It was undoubtedly The Backside identify. The Black Backside or thirty third Road was often called the Underworld.

So I wish to say I observed the change, I observed the primary home that was put up throughout Lancaster Avenue nearer to Aspen Road. It was a pleasant little city dwelling, but it surely was most likely solely two of them that had been constructed. And that was in 2015, I wish to say between 2014 and 2015 as a result of my cousin ended up shifting in one in every of them and he was telling me that home price him a couple of quarter million. And I used to be like, “What? 1 / 4 million? Down there?”

In order that was the primary time that I actually began taking note of how they had been creating across the space. And it simply got here quickly after that. These first two homes was just like the breakthrough, like “we in right here.” They usually simply began constructing and constructing and constructing. Then you definitely began seeing, I wish to say during the last what, 5 – 6 years you began seeing individuals from New York migrate down right here on this space. They tore down the flats on Baron Road that was low revenue. They tore these down off of forty first and Baron. They moved these individuals out. They shut down this financial institution. It was once United Approach or one thing proper there on Lancaster Avenue — that was offered. They usually simply redeveloped all of that. However after they redeveloped it was for college kids. It wasn’t for the individuals locally.

And then you definitely begin seeing them purchase the church buildings up all alongside Lancaster Avenue, they began shopping for all of the property up round there. They began constructing and it simply went on and on and on. After which one yr after one other, extra buildings went up. The transformation of the neighborhood went from us not feeling protected to you seeing Caucasian individuals strolling with their canines. And I’m like, once I seen that, I’m not even going to lie. After I seen that, I’m telling you, [laughs slightly] it was like 2017. As a result of normally we see the faculty youngsters, however they could hit fortieth Road, but it surely was far and few. After I began seeing them stroll via the townhouses, once I began seeing them stroll on Lancaster Avenue with their canines and so they created the canine store proper right here on Lancaster Avenue. I used to be like, “they in,” as a result of in case you see one or two, you recognize it’s an entire line of them coming.

And then you definitely simply began seeing the bagel shops and stuff like that. They purchased the laundromat. It was similar to every thing that we used and every thing that was an amenity to us not was an amenity to us.

To listen to the tales of senior residents within the constructing throughout the road from me, after we went over and had a presentation, we had been telling them that the HUD contract was expiring. However simply to listen to their tales and them telling me, “I keep in mind when College of Penn got here and so they b ought up my mother’s home or my cousin’s home and so they supplied them pennies after which ended up promoting the property or working the property and it’s like 1,000,000 greenback property now.” what I imply?

These are the tales that I hear. The place they got here in, they most likely purchased three homes on the block, they in-built that exact space after which raised the property taxes on our elders. So now they’ll’t even afford to pay the taxes, which places their properties in foreclosures. Which provides the college an opportunity to purchase it at near nothing. In order that they’re getting the property both means, we’re both going to pay you out in pennies or we’re going to take it from you after which purchase it in pennies. Both means, we’re going to get this property for the low. We’re going to redevelop this entire complete space and we’re going to place you out of it.

KH: Rasheda emphasizes the position universities have performed in gentrifying the realm. Organizers combating to save lots of the UC Townhomes level to the creation of “College Metropolis,” [in the 1950s and 60’s], as “maybe the earliest purposeful template for college led gentrification/displacement in what’s at present often called the US.”

RA: Drexel and College of Penn maintain an excellent duty, and I wish to virtually say just a little larger than town as a result of they’re the principle ones that’s displacing everybody. They’re shopping for up these properties. They don’t pay taxes. These are working as non-profit organizations. You might be consistently investing into your college, whether or not it’s the comfortability of residing to your college students or your workers or simply since you wish to broaden your establishment, however you’re increasing on the expense of different individuals and folks’s livelihoods. I assume the underside of the barrel individuals who they contemplate on the backside of the totem pole, which might be working class residents. And as I say, cash discuss and BS strolling as a result of the sum of money that they maintain and the status, town simply lets them do no matter they need. I actually maintain them at a better regard than I do town.

However I really feel like on some ranges town has say so on how they transfer in our neighborhoods and in our communities. And the truth that all of them are working collectively and town is permitting it. That’s the place the issue comes into play at. They’re increasing their universities however they’re not increasing or investing into the communities. And you may at all times inform after they’re about to rain havoc in your group as a result of they have an inclination to take out the packages that had been as soon as invested locally. They slowly however certainly begin to die down and no one actually pays consideration to it as a result of individuals are simply going about their actions of day by day residing. So it’s like, no, properly this program stopped. I knew from the very starting that it was about to dwindle and so they had been about to return in right here and simply have they means on this group.

From the faculties being shut down, they displaced the youngsters from their studying establishments. After which just like the after faculty program, we had Powel, which was proper right here on forty first and Ludlow and Drexel and Penn mainly invested in these after faculty packages. After which slowly however certainly it was like we snatching that. Powel ended up shifting. So the children had nowhere to go and do leisure actions anymore. The after faculty packages stopped. After which it was like, we purchased your faculty, we knocking it down, we simply made a car parking zone for Penn. We simply knocked your Early Childhood Studying Training Heart down. Guess what? We simply constructed scholar housing and luxurious flats for Penn.

And it’s similar to, no, how do you try this? For those who’re going to do this and also you’re going to displace individuals’s establishments for his or her kids and their properties, no less than change it. Don’t simply are available in right here and steal and take from us after which not change it and say, okay, take care of it one of the best ways you know the way. That’s not proper. However as America works, thievery is how they function. In order that they’ve been stealing all their lives. In order that’s the primary nature for white collar individuals, company America. It’s a must to get the cash off from someplace. It’s a must to get the revenue from someplace and somebody. So why not get it off the backs of the poor?

KH: Residents of West Philadelphia have struggled to carry onto their properties because the sprawl of “College Metropolis” has pushed out Black companies, tenants and householders.

RA: So everybody in West Philly that has been whether or not a tenant or a home-owner have been resisting the flipping of the properties and the constructing of the properties as a result of they’re not for us. They won’t make investments a greenback into our space till they’re prepared to purchase it and buy it and redevelop. And then you definitely wish to spend money on shops, and then you definitely wish to spend money on security and it’s simply not proper. They’ll let our group run all the way down to the bottom, is not going to help us with something, wouldn’t help householders with something. After which after they begin aiding the householders, it’s like, we’re aiding you as a result of we’re coming in and increase in your group and we don’t need us to look unhealthy.

It’s at all times to go with them. It’s at all times one thing to revenue them on the again finish. However we’ve got been resisting for a very long time and we’ve been combating towards it. Even once I talked to the enterprise proprietor over right here at Crown, Muhammad, he truly requested me to jot down him a letter saying how he was locally as a result of he was being pushed out. They advised him that he may not have his retailer right here and he’s a enterprise proprietor and been right here for so long as I’ve been right here, if not longer. And once I say this man will do something for you, he has fed individuals who didn’t come up with the money for to eat and then you definitely’re telling him that he’s not ok to be on this group. You pushing him out and saying, “Oh no, you’ll be able to’t be right here.” So he stated okay as a result of he loves West Philly and it’s near his dwelling. So he seen a spot on thirty ninth and Lancaster.

Now, these are folks that by no means lived the actual right here. They only moved round right here as a result of Penn constructed up round right here. However they got here collectively and did an entire assembly, like a group and a city corridor and wrote a petition for him not to have the ability to construct one other retailer, one other Crown Fried Hen. what they advised him? They didn’t need the riff raff from fortieth Road over there on that facet. However that was exterior earlier than you even bought there. We was there earlier than you got here. And now that y’all stay over there along with your homes, canines and your youngsters, now we’re not allowed to… Oh, is it a whites solely?

I’m misplaced as a result of this was often called the Black Backside and nonetheless is named the Black Backside however y’all carried out white washed it. And now we not allowed within the space that we constructed them. We’re not allowed in the identical space that our grandmothers had homes in. Now it’s an issue. And that’s how he really feel. He’s like, “the place am I to go?” So he had me write a letter or no matter to inform about my expertise, who he was as an individual. And it’s fairly unhappy as a result of they mainly gave him a date like, “okay, within the subsequent yr or two you bought to go.”

I ought to have identified one thing was fallacious after they put an elevator at fortieth and Market. As a result of I used to be right here for years earlier than they put an elevator right here at fortieth and Market. I’ve been residing round right here lengthy sufficient and I’ve been residing in Philly lengthy sufficient to know after they come and so they begin constructing and making stuff disabled accessible, it isn’t for us. I can assure you that, it’s not for us. We might use it whereas we right here, however we gained’t be right here lengthy. Imagine that. You see what they doing to us now, they pushing us out.

KH: Whereas gentrification’s outcomes are concrete and acquainted — with poor households pressured out and beloved neighborhood companies floor beneath — the method of gentrification is commonly misunderstood. Whereas the looks of scholars, artists and canine groomers might function markers of its progress, they aren’t its drivers. As Rasheda indicated, native universities and authorities officers forcibly reshaped the terrain of West Philly. Capital flows opportunistically, and at current, it’s flowing again into land that has been rendered low cost or simple to steal by earlier years of disinvestment. This inflow of capital to an area, to allow the extraction of elevated earnings, is only one part in a bigger course of.

In his ebook Capital Metropolis, geographer and concrete planner Samuel Stein writes:

By definition, gentrification can’t occur all over the place. It’s the third stage in a long-term means of capital circulation out and in of house: first comes funding in a constructed setting; second, neighborhood disinvestment and property abandonment; and third, reinvestment in that very same house for larger earnings.

Stein argues that gentrification happens within the context of what he calls the “actual property state,” which is “a political formation through which actual property capital has inordinate affect over the form of our cities, the parameters of our politics and the lives we lead.” Stein explains that with the decline of business in city facilities, calls for for decrease land values primarily come from organized renters, who face an uphill battle, as many nonprofits, unions and community-based organizations have discovered methods to align themselves with factions of actual property. Such teams might win a small variety of reasonably priced housing items, or assured union contracts for a luxurious improvement, however these concessions usually happen in live performance with the method of elevating property values, in order that extra revenue might be extracted, and extra taxes might be collected. “Within the absence of producing,” Stein writes, “actual property holds one thing approaching monopoly energy to form the narrative round city planning and concrete futures.”

This idea of the actual property state might help us perceive gentrification as one stage of a for much longer and bigger undertaking of abandonment, repossession and extraction. As Stein says, “By the actual property state, town turns into gentrified. By gentrification, town turns into neoliberal.”

In a neoliberal metropolis, there is just one resolution supplied in response to all main social ills: policing. Slightly than funding housing, meals, or clear air and water for group members, neoliberal cities make large investments in policing, to make sure that the impacts of organized abandonment are absorbed in an orderly style. When a neighborhood gentrifies, longtime residents who refuse to relocate, or who can’t adapt to altering situations, might be disposed of via criminalization and incarceration.

Organizers at Philadelphia Housing Motion aren’t any strangers to this course of, or to the position of police. Within the winter of 2019 and 2020, the group shaped a coalition to halt the continuing eviction of homeless encampments. With an method that centered direct motion, organizers squared off with police, reclaimed properties, and defended a number of encampments. Finally, Philadelphia Housing Motion efficiently pressured town to offer 50 properties for individuals in want, in September of 2020. Upon listening to concerning the disaster that UC Townhomes residents had been going through, members of the coalition had been decided to assist.

Sterling Johnson: I’m Sterling Johnson, I’m an organizer with Philadelphia Housing Motion, we’re with the coalition, it’s a coalition of a number of organizations, Police Free Penn, Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, Fossil Free Penn, Penn Housing for All. We’re the principle non-Penn group, however Philadelphia Housing Motion has been doing work round housing and homelessness and hurt discount in an intersectional means, being targeted round abolition of the police and prisons, in addition to property, and targeted on discovering methods to deal with all people within the metropolis.

We had been delivered to this marketing campaign via a buddy of ours that talked about that they had been terminating this Part 8 contract as a result of it had ended, and the proprietor wished to promote the property to a luxurious developer, wished to get about $100 million for this, and as an alternative of speaking to people, determining what they wished, they had been simply going to promote it out from beneath them. So I feel as soon as the organizers from Police Free Penn, and particularly in our organizing Philadelphia Housing Motion, we wished a special resolution. We simply began going out and speaking to individuals and from there, we discovered that lots of people hadn’t been organized, didn’t know one another, and that’s the place we bought collectively and had a few of these preliminary conversations about what are we going to do.

The very first thing that we wished to do was cease any demolition. One of many necessities for promoting the property to this different developer was that they had been going to demolish the property, so that may be a destruction of this group. Because the organizing has to speak with one another, we had these different, the principle demand of stopping the demolition, but in addition for those that wished to depart, simply compensation for them relying on their place. Extra time for a number of the elders and disabled individuals to truly discover locations that had been appropriate for them and applicable for them, that may’t be carried out in a brief time period.

Then additionally, we wished to take care of the property. By these actions and campaigns, it’s important that we’re ensuring that the standard of life of every of the residents is maintained on the identical degree because it was beforehand. One of many ways in which there’s an actual oppression towards individuals is the regular devolution of companies that occurs. So we’ve at all times been very, very, very clear about the necessity to report each single restore, report it publicly and report it privately, report it to HUD, after which repair that instantly so individuals’s high quality of life stays because it was.

So being principally direct motion organizers, folks that reject this, I assume relying on politicians for doing the work that we should be doing, no less than that’s in our expertise, normally they’re prepared to make offers that we aren’t.

KH: Some politicians urged a deal that would supply some residents of the UC Townhomes with reasonably priced housing items in a luxurious house advanced. The supply included 5 items, despite the fact that 70 households had been confronted with displacement. I’ve seen this sort of tactic many instances, when organizers are negotiating with metropolis officers. Politicians will usually attempt to poke holes within the solidarity of teams by providing doubtlessly giant features for a choose few. Unimpressed with the offers officers urged, organizers combating to save lots of the UC Townhomes determined it was time to escalate.

SJ: For us, we then determined to attract out this map of targets of individuals that would get us to the place we wished to be. One in every of them was the College of Pennsylvania. College of Pennsylvania has a relationship with the present proprietor of this property, so we wished them to place strain on the proprietor Altman to then cease the demolition, kill the offers, give simply compensation. We did direct actions at Penn, a number of occasions that College of Penn was holding and interrupted these, we went to the Fort Washington workplace of Altman, we went to his workplace in West Philly to demand that they really stopped the demolition and gave simply compensation and extra time. By these occasions, we additionally truly didn’t get the place we would have liked to be. They didn’t reply us, we didn’t actually get as a lot consideration as we would have liked, so then we needed to hold ramping it up.

That was after we led an precise occupation of the location, with I’d say round possibly 50 campers that may come up, individuals rotated all through the time, however we simply had an ongoing occupation of the location at fortieth and Market in West Philadelphia. Having occasions, having academic occasions, having film nights, utilizing the house to ship meals, generally simply be with one another. We arrange tables and banners letting individuals know what was occurring, connecting with individuals round West Philadelphia within the Penn space, round what we name “Penntrification,” which is the growth of the College of Penn and displacement of the principally Black working class individuals within the neighborhood.

After all, they took us to courtroom and so they stated, “You possibly can’t be right here.” I went with one of many primary organizers, Melvin Hurston, and he was one of many primary plaintiffs, as a result of as a resident it was actually vital for them to say that, “We now have invited these individuals to be on our property. They’re with us and we’re doing this collectively. Because the residents and outdoors organizers, we wish to make this encampment with seen tents to point out what’s the doable way forward for us if you don’t do what it is advisable to do.” Right here we went to courtroom, had been in a position to delay the proceedings for a number of weeks. What occurred was the choose dominated towards us and stated that the tents, the banners, the tables, the canopies all wanted to be taken down.

We appealed to the sheriff and stated that, “You don’t have to do that.” She stated that she was simply doing her job, similar to any oppressive pressure, they had been simply doing their job, they are saying. So we had fairly a violent removing of our encampment on August ninth, 2022. There have been no arrests, however one individual was taken right into a paddy wagon and brought across the block. Thank goodness, there weren’t any lasting accidents, but it surely was a really violent time for not solely the residents, but in addition a number of the kids that had been within the house to see these closely armed women and men come and seize the tents and trash them and minimize down banners and simply present the total violence of the state.

I feel one of many issues we did was we wished to have this house as an area that was protected, and we known as it the individuals’s townhomes to simply be an expression of adjusting the narrative across the property. Typically, even after we had been speaking to individuals, even after we talked to the councilperson’s workers, they’d say, “That is non-public property.” Our aim was to point out that it was not simply non-public property for some man or girl or anyone, on this case it occurred to be a white man from Montgomery County, which is exterior town, that will get to determine the lives of 70 households, 70 Black households, 70 principally Black woman-headed households that aren’t solely simply caring for his or her kids, however usually caring for his or her grandchildren and in addition dad and mom.

So it was an actual, the racial dynamics must be talked about right here, as a result of it was an actual train in Black autonomy and self willpower to say that, “That is the individuals’s townhomes, that is public property. There’s a public curiosity right here that needs to be taken. It’s not simply property to be traded on some web site.” So right here, even amongst our declaration, the state had come and stated that, “No, you cannot be right here.” From there, we actually needed to transfer our technique round what was going to occur. As a result of we wished to simply say that town may cease the demolition, they don’t have to present the permits, they’ll say that there’s a cause to cease this means of eradicating individuals from their homes, an eviction or ejectment, after which additionally doing a demolition of the location. They will cease that, proper?

That was the place we had been at, and we actually needed to transition to what are we going to think about on this web site? So we now have, our primary demand is we wish to protect the property. We now have reached out to nationwide builders and native consultants that may assist a nationwide developer get via Pennsylvania’s tax credit score schemes to protect the property. We all know that the opposite properties across the neighborhood have been preserved utilizing totally different financing. The truth is, throughout the road there may be this different property known as College Sq. that had been 400 items of principally senior housing that individuals know very properly the place we’re at College Metropolis Townhomes, they know these individuals in College Sq.. They know that that constructing was offered for $90-million {dollars} after which every house was rehabbed, so that they comprehend it’s doable that the constructing might be preserved, their items might be renovated and rehabbed as they’re.

We’re going to discover these people which might be going to do this, these entities, these nationwide entities that may mobilize the thousands and thousands of {dollars} wanted to do this. So at present, that’s the place we’re at. We’re nonetheless doing direct actions, we’re nonetheless going to … We now have a few of our allies at Penn, College of Penn college students smash the convocation, the opening session of the brand new President [M.] Elizabeth Magill, and so they had been in a position to disrupt it and she or he walked off and stated she’s not having this dialog and so they actually simply stopped the entire thing, which is basically vital that when our individuals say, “Shut it down,” they imply shut it down. For those who’re going to have a convocation and also you’re going to disregard us and never discuss to us, then we’re going to just be sure you don’t get to complete that program.

One other group went to a fundraiser at this building lobbyist known as the BIA, the Constructing Business Affiliation, they went to their gathering the place there have been a number of Metropolis Council individuals shaking fingers and having lobster with their mates, with their lobbyist mates, and so they shut that down as properly. So what we’ve discovered is that we’re in a position to discuss to individuals, a variety of totally different representatives, a variety of totally different state and metropolis degree representatives and we’re in a position to get their help for our deal, which we respect, however we nonetheless must do the additional work in order that they’re popping out with public statements supporting the preservation of the UC Townhomes.

So we had been in a position to get one of many mayoral candidates who has carried out a variety of work in housing, Helen Gymnasium, to make a supportive assertion, Kendra Brooks, who was the one individual on the Working Households Social gathering on Metropolis Council, they had been in a position to make a public assertion, and so they had been the primary folks that we would have liked, that may result in different individuals on Metropolis Council that may then have the ability to ensure that we get town cash that we have to full this transaction. So proper now, we’re on the strategy planning stage, we’d like individuals to assent to our deal. We wish these state, metropolis and undoubtedly some federal funds from the Housing Authority, Philadelphia Housing Authority, which we’ve got a relationship with as properly, we’d like these entities to help our deal that may protect the UC Townhomes as they’re.

KH: Because the wrestle has worn on, residents of the UC Townhomes have developed new expertise and relationships, on account of waging their marketing campaign.

RA: We now have carried out every thing from facilitate conferences with residents to facilitating conferences and going within the conferences with politicians, with HUD regional places of work, making an attempt to resolve the difficulty of the displacement that we had been going through right here. Once we seen it, we weren’t in a position to get via, that’s when the actions had been caused. And the actions really feel fairly liberating in case you ask me. It feels good to create a disaster. And since I’ve realized being on this organizing and coping with this, individuals don’t wish to hear, they don’t care. They usually’ll flip a blind eye and let every thing fall on deaf ears till a disaster is created.

The escalations [involved] us coming to their office, reaching out to their workplace, going to their residential neighborhoods, letting your neighbors know that they’re displacing low revenue households, mainly exposing them, that’s undoubtedly how we escalated. The encampment, it was actually a final resort. And lots of people simply assume that activists simply go from zero to a thousand. No, it’s truly, I assume I can say it’s protocol to present individuals an opportunity to reply since you simply don’t go to the acute with out making an attempt to reconcile first. I simply really feel like that was simply the artwork of struggle proper there as a result of if we’re making an attempt to speak with you in a civilized method, and we’re coming to you in knowledgeable method, we weren’t being derogatory. We simply wished solutions.

We simply wished to have conversations with these people who had been all in conspiracy with displacing us. They usually weren’t prepared to return to the desk and communicate to us. They only disregarded us like we didn’t matter or we didn’t have a voice.

So the protesting, the rallying actually empowered me. It made me really feel heard and it introduced us up into this level of even the encampment, doing the encampment. That was one thing I had by no means skilled earlier than. I had by no means participated within the encampment ever. All of that is very a lot new to me. It was me filling my means via with the steerage {of professional} organizers and advocates. However I really feel prefer it was undoubtedly a studying expertise. It’s nonetheless a studying expertise, however I really feel like that is value my whereas. I really feel like that is one thing that I used to be known as to do.

As a result of on the finish of the day, you will hear our voice, you’re going to listen to our complaints, and also you’re going to handle our considerations, whether or not it’s voluntarily or involuntarily. And the factor is, a variety of these individuals, white collar company individuals, politicians, they really feel like they don’t must be accountable and provides solutions to the misconduct of their enterprise and the mismanaging and enjoying round with individuals’s livelihoods, they really feel like they don’t must reply. So for me to have the ability to say, “No, it stops right here. You’re going to present me a solution,” it undoubtedly modifications the sport as a result of it places them, it brings them again to actuality.

When actions are being introduced towards them, after we’re reaching out to them and when we’ve got to go to the subsequent degree, it brings these politicians and different folks that maintain these excessive positions into actuality. You might be human, you’re not invincible and you may be accountable. I don’t know why when individuals attain a sure degree, they really feel like accountability doesn’t apply to them, but it surely very a lot so does. And I feel some individuals should be reminded of that. So I come as a remembrance.

KH: Once we speak about remembrance, we must also acknowledge that the combat to save lots of the UC Townhomes is an extension of a wrestle that has been occurring because the 1960’s.

SJ: So the location of the UC Townhomes has historic significance as properly. Through the early 1900s, there was a improvement of a Black group known as the Black Backside, which existed with companies on that space of West Philadelphia. So we’re speaking from mainly the thirtieth Road Station to fortieth Road after which south, that space was focused for redevelopment throughout the City Renewal interval, which in collaboration, when the College of Penn and Drexel, they had been in a position to by eminent area take the property of many Black householders and Black enterprise house owners.

There was pushback from the Black group all through that point, all through the ’60s. They had been joined by younger College of Penn college students, there was a sit-in in 1969 to say that there wanted to be reasonably priced housing that was constructed as part of this new plan. By that course of and what got here out of the protest was what they known as Quadripartite Fee, which was a group of area people leaders, Black group leaders and college students to determine how they might equitably construct on this web site. Nothing actually got here of that although.

What we had over time, 1969 to the early ’80s, was nonetheless zero reasonably priced housing in that web site, and the development of many buildings that also are part of the College of Pennsylvania. Lastly, as there was an actual combat round the place reasonably priced housing could be constructed within the metropolis, there was management on the high, Frank Rizzo was the mayor, Frank Rizzo is a famous racist and a tough-on-crime outdated police commissioner in Philadelphia. He was identified for being actually robust on the Panthers and on MOVE throughout the ’70s. He had an announcement that public housing actually meant housing for Black individuals, so subsequently his planning division was not going to construct it, and particularly within the White components of town.

In response to that, the Rental Advisory Board and Group Authorized Companies sued him to have that housing in-built southern South Philly and in addition in components of West Philly. The end result was them successful, there was further political strain that was placed on the federal authorities HUD, Housing and City Improvement, and with their assist, with them refusing to truly give town improvement cash, plus the lawsuit that was towards town for being segregationists, lastly they had been in a position to put land apart at fortieth and Market, use federal cash to construct the land, this firm known as IVID, I-V-I-D, which is owned by Brett Altman and his household, they had been in a position to purchase the property for $70,000 after which in a position to run the location for, what the deal was, was 40 years.

That was 1982. That’s why we’re on the present web site that we’re at, after we’re speaking about, “Why now? Why now’s this occurring?” It’s as a result of a 40-year deal was created to sundown the Part-8 program within the early ’80s. So after we’re right here and we’re speaking about how ought to we be shifting, for me, it’s about sustaining Part-8 properties and rehabbing them and ensuring they stand as is. Oftentimes, with expiration of those properties, individuals are combating for vouchers, they’re combating for Part-8 vouchers for use across the metropolis to allow them to be built-in into the location, as a result of there’s a stigma towards low revenue individuals residing collectively in a majority of these items.

On this particular case, they’re truly unfold out and fairly low density. There are 70 two and three-story items with two, three and 4 bedrooms accessible for the residents. There’s a play road the place the children of the neighborhood, the place there’s about 50 or 60 kids that every one know one another, go to the identical faculty, come dwelling, play collectively. There’s a car parking zone, it’s fairly small, it isn’t there for everyone, however it’s accessible for individuals to make use of so that they don’t must be on the road. There are timber and courtyards, there’s about 4 courtyards within the house, so individuals have a spot the place they’ll put up a cover and have a barbecue fairly simply there as properly.

That is lovely housing, fantastically designed housing meant for communities to flourish and be collectively. The truth is, so as to add just a little density, some individuals say that for this reason it should be demolished, as a result of the financing doesn’t work right here. That’s not the purpose that we’re at, we don’t care concerning the financing, we’re speaking about what works for our group. Our group requires that there be a play road for 10 and 11 yr olds to seek out the house to play soccer or to play soccer with their mates. That’s what is critical for the group. We actually see that, see ourselves and see our advocacy as an extension of this historical past, the place up to now they destroyed a neighborhood known as the Black Backside, we nonetheless name it the Black Backside over right here, up to now they fought towards the development of this housing saying that it was only for Black poor individuals and there’s no means that these individuals ought to have the ability to stay collectively as a group.

So quick ahead to the place we had been at, we assert that this group is critical and is a large a part of the material of West Philly. We now have individuals which might be staff, individuals which might be retired, folks that had been academics, folks that cared for kids of their jobs, folks that had been retail staff, we nonetheless have folks that maintain their very own grandchildren as properly, as I discussed earlier than. These individuals are our group, and after we’re speaking about simply giving individuals vouchers and telling them to maneuver far-off, three miles away in another neighborhood, it signifies that we’re destroying their group.

It turns into, issues begin to crystallize about what it’s that we’re as much as. It’s about ensuring that this group stays collectively, so it turns into concerning the individuals. From Mrs. Lyle, who has a chunk within the Inquirer about why she’s near the College of Penn’s hospital, which is doing rather a lot for her daughter, she’s forwards and backwards to the hospital. To Miss Charmaine who’s taking good care of her husband, he’s been on hospice a number of instances. I say a number of instances, as a result of thank goodness he’s alive and thank goodness that they stay near the hospital in order that Miss Charmaine can maintain him. So there are individuals’s conditions right here that require them to be along with their neighbors to assist care for his or her households. In relation to that work, it turns into fairly away from why, at this level in historical past, we combat for individuals to stay of their properties and to remain, for the group to remain as it’s.

The combat round Philadelphia, particularly in North and West Philly the place there was historic redlining, is fierce. Ruth Birchett, we’ve got individuals in North Philly, what they name the Stage Stompers, there’s a group of North Philly elders that fought towards the constructing of a stadium by Temple College, the place that I’m going to high school, wished to construct that stadium in North Philly and the individuals stated no.

So those self same faces of resistance are in West Philly, they’re after all as each bit associated to the MOVE group which might be nonetheless combating, there are many individuals in Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, different organizations have been combating towards particularly gentrification in West Philly as properly. So there may be at all times this crescent of resistance round Black Philadelphia that has been right here. Nonetheless, nonetheless we’ve got seen a sequence of mass evictions in our metropolis, and each time a type of occurs we come collectively, we’ve got come collectively during the last no less than I’d say 5 years round determining how you can help these individuals.

I’ve been within the metropolis and linked to a number of organizations which were in that combat. A lot of the conditions have been the place an proprietor of a big constructing wished to promote it for a gross sum of money. One in every of them was named Penn Wynne in 2017, the Admiral and Dorsett Courts, which had been these giant house buildings the place they did a mass eviction telling all people, tons of of individuals, that they needed to go away inside 30 days. They’d flip off the water each morning, after which we’d must have anyone go over there and switch again on the water. This was an organizing effort that was being led by the Philadelphia Tenants Union on the time.

Different conditions, one in every of them was known as the Arvilla, as properly the place that constructing was a backed housing program that was terminated after which offered for about $2 million to a developer and now it’s scholar housing. So there are these conditions that proceed to occur in our metropolis, and we’ve got seen alternative ways of trying to prepare them. So from my standpoint, it’s been a studying [process] with every scenario. Early on, we had been simply making an attempt to both simply cease the sale, or we had been making an attempt to assist the individuals land on their toes. Now, we’re at this place the place we’re going to protect each property that comes up.

There are different properties over the subsequent 5 years that may expire, similar to the UC Townhomes, and we’d like to have the ability to increase that cash and protect these properties. Both via debt financing, there was the power for the state to truly eminent area these properties and take them over and switch them over to a preservation group that really needs to carry these properties. However the factor that we gained’t have is you evicting dozens of, tons of of aged Black individuals and placing them on the road and probably resulting in their early deaths. That’s what occurred in different conditions.

Why do we are saying this? As a result of we all know these individuals, these individuals died. Having your housing taken from you, the heartbreak of it and in addition the physical-ness of getting to truly determine what your life might be, despite the fact that you’re already in your 80s, that’s the ache and the harshness of our present society. This after all isn’t just occurring right here, it’s occurring in Chicago and San Francisco and New York, L.A., we see these different giant buildings being focused by world worldwide capital for them to be turned over into condos. If you speak about a spot like New York or D.C. or San Francisco, you’re speaking about empty condos which might be simply meant to be held. As a result of it actually doesn’t matter whether or not somebody truly lives in them or not, you’re nonetheless in a position to acquire some kind of revenue from it.

In order that’s the place we stand right here, and we perceive that this isn’t only a Philadelphia scenario, a Philadelphia subject, it’s about us becoming a member of with particularly a few of our mates in San Francisco and New York, the place worldwide capital, overseas capital comes into your metropolis and simply buys up giant properties or builds giant properties which might be left empty and vacant. We simply gained’t have it anymore. I’ve been actually pressuring HUD to do one thing about this, and determine an answer that isn’t nearly giving individuals vouchers. Fixing vouchers will not be the difficulty, try to be funding public housing.

There’s a invoice known as the Construct Again Higher Invoice, which didn’t cross within the Senate, but it surely was supposed to assist us repair up the housing that exists, after which additionally protect a few of these expiring HUD and low revenue housing tax credit score properties, in order that they’re maintained. We see that there’s nonetheless no severe efforts in the direction of that, so we’re going to maintain combating, as a result of it doesn’t simply relate to us, it’s all people within the nation that’s combating to protect this housing. Quite a lot of instances we speak about homelessness and the necessity to produce extra housing, however we don’t combat for the housing that really exists proper now, so I’m undecided what individuals are speaking about typically, particularly with regards to the East Coast the place there may be a variety of housing that’s accessible, it’s simply mendacity vacant.

KH: Whereas the solutions could seem clear, the actual property state is maintained by highly effective forces. When the federal government and the rich align to destroy a group, combating again might be painful and exhausting. Rasheda shared that, whereas she is deeply dedicated to the wrestle to save lots of the UC Townhomes, the hassle has taken a toll on residents.

RA: It feels heavy. It’s undoubtedly with a heavy coronary heart that I advocate and lead locally as a result of all the chances are towards you. Generally it’s discouraging. I’ve cried many nights. My coronary heart is definitely damaged since you see individuals who have identified this group to be their solely dwelling mainly displaced and see or not it’s stripped away from them. And it’s painful since you bought to inform your nana that’s 80 years outdated who’ve been on this group her entire life, who carried out raised her youngsters, her grandkids and her nice grans that you simply bought to go. And we don’t know the place you going to go. Or right here go a voucher, discover someplace to go. Regardless that it’s individuals out right here and there’s a variety of landlords that don’t settle for a voucher, however determine it out with no useful resource. And it’s painful. It’s painful.

I get enjoyment out of victory. I get enjoyment out of creating everybody who has made my individuals uncomfortable, uncomfortable. As a result of I need you to really feel what we really feel. It’s not enjoyable in case your buddy can’t have none. I need you to really feel how we really feel. And I really feel like if all people can really feel the ache that we really feel, possibly they’ll redirect their methods. And so yeah, undoubtedly management is extraordinarily onerous, particularly in instances like this. However I don’t imagine that it’s unimaginable. He stated, “I created you for such a time as this.” [Laughs] All of us have a function and a plan for our life. And possibly that is, properly clearly it’s my function and the plan that he had for my life. I didn’t have it, however he had it and I’m simply doing what I used to be known as to do.

KH: Whereas Rasheda talked about feeling known as to do the work of organizing, Sterling shared his hope that others will likewise really feel compelled to step up.

SJ: I need everybody to combat. That’s what I need this message to be. I need you to combat, I need you to prepare, I need you to speak to your neighbors, I need you to have a gathering, I need you to get a spreadsheet and simply the identical means that we will set up a barbecue, we will set up to repair up our items. We are able to all determine what it means to truly take management of a few of these housing items. With out all people combating, I’m undecided the place we’re at.

And I feel lastly, I simply wish to throw out that a variety of our leaders are moms, are grandmothers, are folks that have skilled violence, are folks that have skilled homelessness, are individuals which might be disabled, and people are a number of the issues that individuals don’t discover thrilling usually. They’re usually on the lookout for some hero or one thing, however we’re simply common individuals. We’re disabled individuals. Quite a lot of the folks that have come and helped are queer and trans individuals too, and I feel that’s one in every of my favourite issues, it’s about individuals studying about one another, having these questions, with the ability to say, “Nicely, what’s non-binary? What’s transgender?” A few of these questions that we’ve got round assembly new individuals and studying about them.

I feel additionally, the assorted religions that we’ve got, every thing is simply so, we’re simply so numerous, it’s simply actually thrilling to find out about new individuals and a brand new place and each single individual has a historical past and has experiences and has one thing to share. So I feel that is likely one of the thrilling components of this work and I simply wish to share that it’s enjoyable to lean into that and to lean into the messiness above all else. As a result of even typically when it will get just a little tense, popping out on the opposite facet collectively is why we’re right here. It’s popping out of this messiness of studying about one another, and typically making errors, however at all times supporting one another is a number of the enjoyable of it.

I simply wished to share that, hopefully individuals had been considering of that because the energy of the motion, slightly than the legal responsibility. That’s what makes us stronger collectively, having such numerous individuals collectively, constructing constructions which might be lasting collectively.

KH: As residents proceed to carry their floor on the UC Townhomes, Rasheda is dreaming of a bigger, nationwide convergence of housing struggles in our time.

RA: See, I be considering large. I wish to take this to, and I’ve been saying this from the very starting, this has to go nationwide. I need us and the organizers to attach on a nationwide degree as a result of it doesn’t cease right here. It doesn’t cease right here. As I stated earlier than, it didn’t begin with us, but it surely’s undoubtedly going to finish with us as a result of while you choose a combat with the fitting one, you going to know they identify, you’ll always remember them. And we’ll by no means be forgotten. That is legendary. We’ll by no means be forgotten. And we’re going to maintain combating and hold connecting and hold networking and hold constructing, not solely inside our group however with different states. As a result of individuals are crying for assist. Persons are on the lookout for a blueprint, they’re on the lookout for some kind of leverage to present them the energy that they should transfer ahead. As a result of the chances are rather a lot greater than them. So we might be David and so they can proceed being Goliath, however you recognize who gained? [Laughs] So that is the hopes I’ve for us. I’m a fighter. I’m not going to surrender irrespective of how drained I’m, and no one on my crew goes to surrender till we see victory.

KH: In line with The Eviction Monitoring System, over 8,000 individuals had been evicted in the US final week. Tenants are solely represented by authorized counsel in eviction courtroom about 3% of the time, whereas constructing house owners have attorneys about 80% of the time. Throughout all age teams, unhoused individuals are 3 times as more likely to die of treatable sicknesses as their housed counterparts, and are far extra weak to COVID. Homeless shelters across the nation have reported a surge in want, with some waitlists doubling and tripling inside a matter of months. So the deck is stacked towards tenants who’re struggling to maintain their properties in a time of monetary uncertainty, when tons of of individuals a day are nonetheless being misplaced to COVID and whereas the federal government intentionally engineers mass unemployment to decrease inflation. With no security nets to catch us as we fall, we’re going to want solidarity to outlive. The true property state and the escalating stakes of the COVID period make it extra vital than ever for residents to band collectively and construct energy from under. As of now 50 households are nonetheless holding their floor within the UC Townhomes. They’ve been given a brand new closing deadline of October 7 to vacate the property. If you need to study extra about how you can help these residents, you’ll be able to take a look at their web site Please, comply with them on social media, signal their petition, take a look at their calls for, and take into consideration how one can mobilize in your personal group. For extra assets on tenant organizing, you should definitely take a look at the present notes of this episode on our web site at

I wish to thank Rasheda Alexander and Sterling Johnson for speaking to me for this episode. I hope others have discovered their phrases as useful and galvanizing as I’ve. I additionally wish to thank our listeners for becoming a member of us right now, and keep in mind, our greatest protection towards cynicism is to do good, and to recollect, that the great we do issues. Till subsequent time, I’ll see you within the streets.

Present Notes

To study extra concerning the combat to save lots of the UC Townhomes, you’ll be able to take a look at the coalition’s web site or comply with them on Twitter or Instagram.

Different assets:

  • The Autonomous Tenants Union Community is internet hosting a digital coaching on September 25 for individuals who wish to discover ways to begin a tenant’s union. Be taught extra right here.
  • You will discover extra academic assets from the Autonomous Tenants Union Community right here.
  • Philadelphia Housing Motion is a coalition shaped over the winter of 2019-2020 between #OccupyPHA and long-time housing and homeless activists. You possibly can study extra about their work right here.
  • The Anti-Eviction Mapping Challenge is a data-visualization, crucial cartography, and multimedia storytelling collective documenting dispossession and resistance upon gentrifying landscapes. Primarily working within the San Francisco Bay Space, Los Angeles, and New York Metropolis, volunteers produce digital maps, software program and instruments, narrative multimedia work, murals, stories, and group occasions.
  • The Eviction Lab has revealed the primary ever dataset of evictions within the U.S., going again to 2000. These instruments can be utilized to find new info about how eviction is shaping your group, elevating consciousness and dealing towards new options.


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