Philly Families Faced With Eviction Are Rising Up, Refusing to Leave Their Homes

“I would like you to struggle, I would like you to prepare, I would like you to speak to your neighbors, I would like you to have a gathering, I would like you to get a spreadsheet and simply the identical method that we are able to set up a barbecue, we are able to 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 battle 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 calmly 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 constructing change. I’m your host, author and organizer Kelly Hayes. Numerous struggles over land and housing are unfolding across the nation, as persons are constantly displaced, and municipalities develop into more and more hostile to unhoused folks. Previous to the pandemic, about 2.7 million people per year confronted eviction within the U.S. Whereas the federal eviction moratorium quickly lowered these numbers, evictions at the moment are 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 struggle evictions, utility shut-offs, and rising rents, whereas demanding higher circumstances, and even hire cancellations. The battle of unhoused folks, preventing for tent area can’t be separated from the battle of tenants going through displacement, or staff who face publicity to COVID with out mitigations or monetary aid. 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 loss of life by way of the jail system, mass evictions, or the continual pressured relocation of unhoused folks, we’re speaking in regards to the penalties of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls organized abandonment. As Gilmore explained in an episode of Intercepted, over the past 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 sufficient earnings, 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 felony system can be used to disqualify folks 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, comprise and eradicate people who find themselves thought of surplus. Organized abandonment legitimizes itself by delegitimizing the deserted.

Immediately, we’re speaking about gentrification, organized abandonment and an ongoing battle 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 folks concerned with that battle at present — Rasheda Alexander and Sterling Johnson. Rasheda is a resident of the UC Townhomes and a frontrunner on this battle. 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 worried with gentrification, displacement, or resisting the destruction of communities and the disposal of human beings, would actually profit from listening to what these organizers need to say. As somebody who spends numerous time interested by how we are able to construct from beneath on this period of apocalyptic capitalism, I discovered Rasheda’s breakdown of what the Townhomes neighborhood is up in opposition to shifting, insightful and instructive.

Rasheda Alexander: So I got here right here, I crammed out an utility 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. Numerous the homes had been in dangerous 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 dangerous over there.” It was undoubtedly The Backside title. The Black Backside or thirty third Road was generally known as 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 residence, nevertheless it 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 certainly one of them and he was telling me that home price him a few 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 growing 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.” And so they simply began constructing and constructing and constructing. Then you definitely began seeing, I wish to say over the past what, 5 or 6 years you began seeing folks from New York migrate down right here on this space. They tore down the residences on Baron Road that was low earnings. They tore these down off of forty first and Baron. They moved these folks out. They shut down this financial institution. It was once United Approach or one thing proper there on Lancaster Avenue — that was offered. And so they simply redeveloped all of that. However once they redeveloped it was for college students. It wasn’t for the folks in the neighborhood.

And you then 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 secure to you seeing Caucasian folks strolling with their canine. And I’m like, after 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 school children, however they could hit fortieth Road, nevertheless it was far and few. After I began seeing them stroll by means of the townhouses, after I began seeing them stroll on Lancaster Avenue with their canine and so they created the canine store proper right here on Lancaster Avenue. I used to be like, “they in,” as a result of when you see one or two, you realize it’s a complete line of them coming.

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

To listen to the tales of senior residents within the constructing throughout the road from me, once 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 provided them pennies after which ended up promoting the property or working the property and it’s like 1,000,000 greenback property now.” You recognize 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 specific space after which raised the property taxes on our elders. So now they will’t even afford to pay the taxes, which places their houses in foreclosures. Which supplies the college an opportunity to purchase it at near nothing. In order that they’re getting the property both method, 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 method, we’re going to get this property for the low. We’re going to redevelop this complete total space and we’re going to place you out of it.

KH: Rasheda emphasizes the position universities have performed in gentrifying the realm. Organizers preventing to save lots of the UC Townhomes point to the creation of “College Metropolis,” [in the 1950s and 60’s], as “maybe the earliest practical template for college led gentrification/displacement in what’s at the moment generally known as the USA.”

RA: Drexel and College of Penn maintain an excellent duty, and I wish to nearly say a little bit increased 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 on your college students or your workers or simply since you wish to broaden your establishment, however you’re increasing on the expense of different folks and other people’s livelihoods. I assume the underside of the barrel individuals who they take into account 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 amount of cash that they maintain and the status, town simply lets them do no matter they need. I actually maintain them at the next 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’ll at all times inform once they’re about to rain havoc in your neighborhood as a result of they have an inclination to take out the packages that had been as soon as invested in the neighborhood. They slowly however absolutely begin to die down and no person actually pays consideration to it as a result of persons 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 method on this neighborhood.

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 absolutely it was like we snatching that. Powel ended up shifting. So the youngsters 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 Schooling Heart down. Guess what? We simply constructed scholar housing and luxurious residences 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 folks’s establishments for his or her kids and their houses, no less than substitute it. Don’t simply are available in right here and steal and take from us after which not substitute it and say, okay, cope with 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 folks, company America. It’s important to get the cash off from someplace. It’s important 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 houses 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 house 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 you then wish to spend money on shops, and you then wish to spend money on security and it’s simply not proper. They may let our neighborhood run all the way down to the bottom, won’t help us with something, wouldn’t help householders with something. After which once they begin aiding the householders, it’s like, we’re aiding you as a result of we’re coming in and increase in your neighborhood and we don’t need us to look dangerous.

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 preventing in opposition to it. Even after I talked to the enterprise proprietor over right here at Crown, Muhammad, he really requested me to jot down him a letter saying how he was in the neighborhood as a result of he was being pushed out. They instructed him that he might now 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 after I say this man will do something for you, he has fed individuals who didn’t find the money for to eat and you then’re telling him that he’s not adequate to be on this neighborhood. You pushing him out and saying, “Oh no, you may’t be right here.” So he mentioned okay as a result of he loves West Philly and it’s near his residence. So he seen a spot on thirty ninth and Lancaster.

Now, these are people who by no means lived the true right here. They simply moved round right here as a result of Penn constructed up round right here. However they got here collectively and did a complete assembly, like a neighborhood 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. You recognize what they instructed him? They didn’t need the riff raff from fortieth Road over there on that aspect. However that was outdoors earlier than you even bought there. We was there earlier than you got here. And now that y’all reside over there together with your homes, canine and your children, now we aren’t allowed to… Oh, is it a whites solely?

I’m misplaced as a result of this was generally known as the Black Backside and nonetheless is called the Black Backside however y’all completed 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 once 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 once 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 received’t be right here lengthy. Consider 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 don’t seem to be 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 income, is only one section in a bigger course of.

In his guide 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 strategy of capital movement out and in of area: first comes funding in a constructed setting; second, neighborhood disinvestment and property abandonment; and third, reinvestment in that very same area for higher income.

Stein argues that gentrification happens within the context of what he calls the “actual property state,” which is “a political formation wherein 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 inexpensive housing items, or assured union contracts for a luxurious improvement, however these concessions typically 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 true property state will help us perceive gentrification as one stage of a for much longer and bigger undertaking of abandonment, repossession and extraction. As Stein says, “By means of the true property state, town turns into gentrified. By means of gentrification, town turns into neoliberal.”

In a neoliberal metropolis, there is just one resolution provided in response to all main social ills: policing. Quite than funding housing, meals, or clear air and water for neighborhood 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 circumstances, might be disposed of by means of 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 strategy that centered direct action, organizers squared off with police, reclaimed houses, and defended a number of encampments. In the end, Philadelphia Housing Motion efficiently pressured town to offer 50 houses for folks in want, in September of 2020. Upon listening to in regards to 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 method, being targeted round abolition of the police and prisons, in addition to property, and targeted on discovering methods to accommodate everyone within the metropolis.

We had been dropped at this marketing campaign by means of a good friend 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 distinct resolution. We simply began going out and speaking to folks 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 might be a destruction of this neighborhood. Because the organizing has to speak with one another, we had these different, the principle demand of stopping the demolition, but additionally for those that wished to go away, simply compensation for them relying on their place. Extra time for among the elders and disabled folks to truly discover locations that had been appropriate for them and acceptable for them, that may’t be completed in a brief time period.

Then additionally, we wished to take care of the property. By means of 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 similar degree because it was beforehand. One of many ways in which there’s an actual oppression in opposition to folks is the regular devolution of providers 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 folks’s high quality of life stays because it was.

So being largely direct motion organizers, people who 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 keen to make offers that we aren’t.

KH: Some politicians prompt a deal that would supply some residents of the UC Townhomes with inexpensive housing items in a luxurious residence advanced. The supply included 5 items, although 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 positive factors for a choose few. Unimpressed with the offers officers prompt, organizers preventing 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 might get us to the place we wished to be. Certainly one 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 means of these occasions, we additionally really didn’t get the place we wanted to be. They didn’t reply us, we didn’t actually get as a lot consideration as we wanted, so then we needed to hold ramping it up.

That was once we led an precise occupation of the location, with I might say round perhaps 50 campers that might come up, folks 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 area to ship meals, generally simply be with one another. We arrange tables and banners letting folks know what was occurring, connecting with folks 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 largely Black working class folks within the neighborhood.

After all, they took us to court docket and so they mentioned, “You possibly can’t be right here.” I went with one of many important organizers, Melvin Hurston, and he was one of many important plaintiffs, as a result of as a resident it was actually essential for them to say that, “We’ve got invited these folks to be on our property. They’re with us and we’re doing this collectively. Because the residents and out of doors organizers, we wish to make this encampment with seen tents to indicate what’s the attainable way forward for us if you don’t do what you might want to do.” Right here we went to court docket, had been capable of delay the proceedings for a number of weeks. What occurred was the decide dominated in opposition to us and mentioned that the tents, the banners, the tables, the canopies all wanted to be taken down.

We appealed to the sheriff and mentioned that, “You don’t have to do that.” She mentioned that she was simply doing her job, similar to any oppressive drive, they had been simply doing their job, they are saying. So we had fairly a violent elimination of our encampment on August ninth, 2022. There have been no arrests, however one particular person was taken right into a paddy wagon and brought across the block. Thank goodness, there weren’t any lasting accidents, nevertheless it was a really violent time for not solely the residents, but additionally among the kids that had been within the area 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 area as an area that was secure, and we referred to as it the folks’s townhomes to only be an expression of fixing the narrative across the property. Typically, even once we had been speaking to folks, even once we talked to the councilperson’s employees, they might say, “That is personal property.” Our aim was to indicate that it was not simply personal property for some man or lady or anyone, on this case it occurred to be a white man from Montgomery County, which is outdoors town, that will get to resolve the lives of 70 households, 70 Black households, 70 largely Black woman-headed households that aren’t solely simply caring for his or her kids, however usually caring for his or her grandchildren and likewise dad and mom.

So it was an actual, the racial dynamics need to 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 folks’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 mentioned 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 only say that town might cease the demolition, they don’t have to offer the permits, they will say that there’s a cause to cease this strategy of eradicating folks 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 important demand is we wish to protect the property. We’ve got reached out to nationwide builders and native consultants that may assist a nationwide developer get by means of Pennsylvania’s tax credit score schemes to protect the property. We all know that the opposite properties across the neighborhood have been preserved utilizing completely different financing. The truth is, throughout the road there may be this different property referred to as College Sq. that had been 400 items of largely senior housing that individuals know very properly the place we’re at College Metropolis Townhomes, they know these folks in College Sq.. They know that that constructing was offered for $90-million {dollars} after which every residence was rehabbed, so that they understand it’s attainable 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 the moment, that’s the place we’re at. We’re nonetheless doing direct actions, we’re nonetheless going to … We’ve got a few of our allies at Penn, College of Penn college students spoil the convocation, the opening session of the brand new President [M.] Elizabeth Magill, and so they had been capable of disrupt it and she or he walked off and mentioned she’s not having this dialog and so they actually simply stopped the entire thing, which is admittedly essential that when our folks 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 referred to as the BIA, the Constructing Business Affiliation, they went to their gathering the place there have been a number of Metropolis Council folks shaking palms and having lobster with their associates, with their lobbyist associates, and so they shut that down as properly. So what we’ve discovered is that we’re capable of discuss to folks, numerous completely different representatives, numerous completely different state and metropolis degree representatives and we’re capable of get their assist for our deal, which we respect, however we nonetheless need to 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 capable of get one of many mayoral candidates who has completed numerous work in housing, Helen Health club, to make a supportive assertion, Kendra Brooks, who was the one particular person on the Working Households Social gathering on Metropolis Council, they had been capable of make a public assertion, and so they had been the primary people who we wanted, that may result in different folks on Metropolis Council that may then have the ability to be sure that we get town cash that we have to full this transaction. So proper now, we’re on the starting stage, we’d like folks to assent to our deal. We would like 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 assist our deal that may protect the UC Townhomes as they’re.

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

RA: We’ve got completed every part from facilitate conferences with residents to facilitating conferences and going within the conferences with politicians, with HUD regional workplaces, attempting to resolve the difficulty of the displacement that we had been going through right here. After we seen it, we weren’t capable of get by means of, that’s when the actions had been caused. And the actions really feel fairly liberating when you ask me. It feels good to create a disaster. And since I’ve realized being on this organizing and coping with this, folks don’t wish to hear, they don’t care. And so they’ll flip a blind eye and let every part 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 earnings 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 really, I assume I can say it’s protocol to offer folks an opportunity to reply since you simply don’t go to the intense with out attempting to reconcile first. I simply really feel like that was simply the artwork of battle proper there as a result of if we’re attempting 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. And so they weren’t keen to return to the desk and converse to us. They simply 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 method by means of with the steering {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 referred to as to do.

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

When actions are being introduced in opposition to them, once we’re reaching out to them and when we’ve got to go to the following degree, it brings these politicians and different people who 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 folks attain a sure degree, they really feel like accountability doesn’t apply to them, nevertheless it very a lot so does. And I feel some folks should be reminded of that. So I come as a remembrance.

KH: After we speak about remembrance, we also needs to acknowledge that the struggle to save lots of the UC Townhomes is an extension of a battle that has been happening for the reason that 1960’s.

SJ: So the location of the UC Townhomes has historic significance as properly. Throughout the early 1900s, there was a improvement of a Black neighborhood referred to 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 capable of by eminent area take the property of many Black householders and Black enterprise house owners.

There was pushback from the Black neighborhood 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 claim that there wanted to be inexpensive housing that was constructed as part of this new plan. By means of that course of and what got here out of the protest was what they referred to as Quadripartite Fee, which was a group of local people leaders, Black neighborhood leaders and college students to resolve how they might equitably construct on this web site. Nothing actually got here of that although.

What we had through the years, 1969 to the early ’80s, was nonetheless zero inexpensive 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 struggle round the place inexpensive housing could be constructed within the metropolis, there was management on the prime, 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 folks, so due to this fact 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 Neighborhood Authorized Providers sued him to have that housing in-built southern South Philly and likewise in components of West Philly. The consequence was them profitable, there was further political strain that was placed on the federal authorities HUD, Housing and City Growth, and with their assist, with them refusing to truly give town improvement cash, plus the lawsuit that was in opposition to town for being segregationists, lastly they had been capable of put land apart at fortieth and Market, use federal cash to construct the land, this firm referred to as IVID, I-V-I-D, which is owned by Brett Altman and his household, they had been capable of purchase the property for $70,000 after which capable of 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, once we’re speaking about, “Why now? Why now could be 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 once 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, persons are preventing for vouchers, they’re preventing 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 in opposition to low earnings folks residing collectively in these kinds of items.

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

That is lovely housing, superbly designed housing meant for communities to flourish and be collectively. The truth is, so as to add a little bit density, some folks say that that is why it have to 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 in regards to the financing, we’re speaking about what works for our neighborhood. Our neighborhood requires that there be a play road for 10 and 11 yr olds to search out the area to play soccer or to play soccer with their associates. That’s what is critical for the neighborhood. 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 referred to as the Black Backside, we nonetheless name it the Black Backside over right here, up to now they fought in opposition to the development of this housing saying that it was only for Black poor folks and there’s no method that these folks ought to have the ability to reside collectively as a neighborhood.

So quick ahead to the place we had been at, we assert that this neighborhood is critical and is a big a part of the material of West Philly. We’ve got folks which might be staff, folks which might be retired, people who had been academics, people who cared for youngsters of their jobs, people who had been retail staff, we nonetheless have people who deal with their very own grandchildren as properly, as I discussed earlier than. These persons are our neighborhood, and once we’re speaking about simply giving folks vouchers and telling them to maneuver far-off, three miles away in another neighborhood, it implies that we’re destroying their neighborhood.

It turns into, issues begin to crystallize about what it’s that we’re as much as. It’s about ensuring that this neighborhood stays collectively, so it turns into in regards to the folks. From Mrs. Lyle, who has a bit within the Inquirer about why she’s near the College of Penn’s hospital, which is doing lots 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 reside near the hospital in order that Miss Charmaine can deal with him. So there are folks’s conditions right here that require them to be along with their neighbors to assist care for his or her households. Relating to that work, it turns into fairly away from why, at this level in historical past, we struggle for folks to stay of their houses and to remain, for the neighborhood to remain as it’s.

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

So those self same faces of resistance are in West Philly, they’re in fact as each bit associated to the MOVE group which might be nonetheless preventing, there are many folks in Black Lives Matter Philadelphia, different organizations have been preventing in opposition to 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. Nevertheless, nonetheless we’ve got seen a collection of mass evictions in our metropolis, and each time a kind of occurs we come collectively, we’ve got come collectively over the past no less than I might say 5 years round determining learn how to assist these folks.

I’ve been within the metropolis and related to a number of organizations which were in that struggle. Many of the conditions have been the place an proprietor of a giant constructing wished to promote it for a gross amount of cash. Certainly one of them was named Penn Wynne in 2017, the Admiral and Dorsett Courts, which had been these giant residence buildings the place they did a mass eviction telling everyone, a whole lot of individuals, that they needed to depart inside 30 days. They might flip off the water each morning, after which we’d need to have any individual 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, certainly one of them was referred to as the Arvilla, as properly the place that constructing was a sponsored 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 state of affairs. Early on, we had been simply attempting to both simply cease the sale, or we had been attempting to assist the folks land on their ft. Now, we’re at this place the place we’re going to protect each property that comes up.

There are different properties over the following 5 years that may expire, similar to the UC Townhomes, and we’d like to have the ability to elevate that cash and protect these properties. Both by means of 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 received’t have is you evicting dozens of, a whole lot of aged Black folks 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 folks, these folks died. Having your housing taken from you, the heartbreak of it and likewise the physical-ness of getting to truly determine what your life will likely be, although you’re already in your 80s, that’s the ache and the harshness of our present society. This in fact 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. Whenever 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 really lives in them or not, you’re nonetheless capable of acquire some form of revenue from it.

In order that’s the place we stand right here, and we perceive that this isn’t only a Philadelphia state of affairs, a Philadelphia challenge, it’s about us becoming a member of with particularly a few of our associates 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 received’t have it anymore. I’ve been actually pressuring HUD to do one thing about this, and determine an answer that’s not nearly giving folks vouchers. Fixing vouchers shouldn’t be the difficulty, you have to be funding public housing.

There’s a invoice referred to as the Construct Again Higher Invoice, which didn’t move within the Senate, nevertheless it was supposed to assist us repair up the housing that exists, after which additionally protect a few of these expiring HUD and low earnings housing tax credit score properties, in order that they’re maintained. We see that there’s nonetheless no severe efforts in direction of that, so we’re going to maintain preventing, as a result of it doesn’t simply relate to us, it’s everyone within the nation that’s preventing to protect this housing. Numerous instances we speak about homelessness and the necessity to produce extra housing, however we don’t struggle for the housing that really exists proper now, so I’m undecided what persons are speaking about typically, particularly with regards to the East Coast the place there may be numerous housing that’s out there, it’s simply mendacity vacant.

KH: Whereas the solutions could appear clear, the true property state is maintained by highly effective forces. When the federal government and the rich align to destroy a neighborhood, preventing again might be painful and exhausting. Rasheda shared that, whereas she is deeply dedicated to the battle 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 in the neighborhood as a result of all the percentages are in opposition to you. Generally it’s discouraging. I’ve cried many nights. My coronary heart is definitely damaged since you see individuals who have identified this neighborhood to be their solely residence 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 neighborhood her complete life, who completed raised her children, her grandkids and her nice grans that you just bought to go. And we don’t know the place you going to go. Or right here go a voucher, discover someplace to go. Despite the fact that it’s folks out right here and there’s numerous landlords that don’t settle for a voucher, however determine it out and not using a useful resource. And it’s painful. It’s painful.

I get enjoyment out of victory. I get enjoyment out of constructing everybody who has made my folks uncomfortable, uncomfortable. As a result of I would like you to really feel what we really feel. It’s not enjoyable in case your good friend can’t have none. I would like you to really feel how we really feel. And I really feel like if everyone can really feel the ache that we really feel, perhaps they will redirect their methods. And so yeah, undoubtedly management is extraordinarily arduous, particularly in instances like this. However I don’t consider that it’s unimaginable. He mentioned, “I created you for such a time as this.” [Laughs] All of us have a objective and a plan for our life. And perhaps that is, properly clearly it’s my objective 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 referred to as to do.

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

SJ: I would like everybody to struggle. That’s what I would like this message to be. I would like you to struggle, I would like you to prepare, I would like you to speak to your neighbors, I would like you to have a gathering, I would like you to get a spreadsheet and simply the identical method that we are able to set up a barbecue, we are able to 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 everyone preventing, I’m undecided the place we’re at.

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

I feel additionally, the assorted religions that we’ve got, every part is simply so, we’re simply so numerous, it’s simply actually thrilling to study new folks and a brand new place and each single particular person has a historical past and has experiences and has one thing to share. So I feel that is without doubt 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 a little bit tense, popping out on the opposite aspect 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 among the enjoyable of it.

I simply wished to share that, hopefully folks had been considering of that because the power of the motion, fairly than the legal responsibility. That’s what makes us stronger collectively, having such numerous folks 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 massive. I wish to take this to, and I’ve been saying this from the very starting, this has to go nationwide. I would like 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 mentioned earlier than, it didn’t begin with us, nevertheless it’s undoubtedly going to finish with us as a result of if you decide a struggle with the appropriate one, you going to know they title, you’ll always remember them. And we are going to by no means be forgotten. That is legendary. We’ll by no means be forgotten. And we’re going to maintain preventing and hold connecting and hold networking and hold constructing, not solely inside our neighborhood however with different states. As a result of persons are crying for assist. Individuals are searching for a blueprint, they’re searching for some sort of leverage to offer them the power that they should transfer ahead. As a result of the percentages are lots greater than them. So we might be David and so they can proceed being Goliath, however you realize who received? [Laughs] So that is the hopes I’ve for us. I’m a fighter. I’m not going to surrender regardless of how drained I’m, and no person on my crew goes to surrender till we see victory.

KH: In line with The Eviction Tracking System, over 8,000 folks had been evicted in the USA final week. Tenants are solely represented by authorized counsel in eviction court docket about 3% of the time, whereas constructing house owners have attorneys about 80% of the time. Throughout all age teams, unhoused persons are thrice as prone to die of treatable diseases as their housed counterparts, and are far more vulnerable to COVID. Homeless shelters across the nation have reported a surge in need, with some waitlists doubling and tripling inside a matter of months. So the deck is stacked in opposition to tenants who’re struggling to maintain their houses in a time of economic uncertainty, when a whole lot 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 essential than ever for residents to band collectively and construct energy from beneath. 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 learn how to assist these residents, you may try their web site Please, comply with them on social media, signal their petition, try their calls for, and take into consideration how one can mobilize in your personal neighborhood. For extra assets on tenant organizing, be sure you try 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 provoking as I’ve. I additionally wish to thank our listeners for becoming a member of us at present, and keep in mind, our greatest protection in opposition to 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 in regards to the struggle to save lots of the UC Townhomes, you may check out the coalition’s website 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 learn to begin a tenant’s union. Be taught extra here.
  • You’ll find extra academic assets from the Autonomous Tenants Union Community 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 here.
  • The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is a data-visualization, vital 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, experiences, and neighborhood 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 information about how eviction is shaping your neighborhood, elevating consciousness and dealing towards new options.


Additional studying: