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UC Townhomes residents were given more time to find housing. For student protesters, the fight to preserve the complex can’t wait.

Drexel students held a sit-in outside president John Fry’s office to demand the university help preserve the low-income housing complex

Drexel students protesting outside of president John Fry’s office Thursday for almost 51 hours, demanding Drexel assist the preservation of the UC Townhomes low-income housing project in West Philadelphia.
Drexel students protesting outside of president John Fry’s office Thursday for almost 51 hours, demanding Drexel assist the preservation of the UC Townhomes low-income housing project in West Philadelphia.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

For residents of the University City Townhomes, Feb. 21. loomed for weeks.

That was the date when the federally subsidized apartment complex’s housing contract was set to expire, leaving residents uncertain if they would have to vacate the West Philadelphia property some have called home for decades.

Residents had previously been told the contract was up on Jan. 31, though IBID Associates, the property’s owner, requested an extension. It was one of several amid the nearly two-year campaign fought by activists with the Save UC Townhomes Coalition to preserve the property from a proposed sale and demolition.

At Drexel, just blocks from the UC Townhomes, some of those activists escalated their efforts this week, holding a 78-plus hour sit-in outside university president John Fry’s office for what they call a campaign against corporate greed and displacement of the complex’s mostly Black and brown residents.

Beginning Tuesday morning, about 14 students occupied a corridor to demand the university contribute $10 million to preserve the UC Townhomes as 100% affordable housing.

The group, which at one point was joined by about 40 additional demonstrators, also demanded that one of IBID’s principals, Brett Altman, be removed from Drexel’s real estate advisory council.

“We’re planning on being here for however long it takes for our demands to be met,” said Chelsea Martin, a fourth-year global studies major who phoned from the protest.

In an email statement Thursday, Fry underscored that Drexel is not involved in the sale or purchase of the UC Townhomes, but that the school acknowledged the “complex and challenging” situation surrounding it.

“As a dynamically diverse university community, we encourage free inquiry, open discussion, and robust debate — with mutual respect,” Fry said. “In that spirit, we will continue to safeguard the right of student protestors to assemble peacefully without violating any University policies or disrupting classes or regular operations.”

Fry also said he had previously met several residents of the UC Townhomes to discuss how the university could support them. According to Martin, students chose Fry’s office for the demonstration to pressure him to follow up on those talks.

Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for IBID, did not comment on the demand for Altman’s removal, but said the developer had recently requested yet another HUD contract extension, this one for two months should it be approved.

According to Feeley, 20 of the complex’s 69 units remain occupied. Around two-thirds of the residents have vacated as IBID has helped provide Section 8 housing vouchers to be used with landlords at other properties.

“We have been working with all residents who want our help to secure alternative housing, and that work will continue,” Feeley said. “For all residents who wish to work with us, IBID will continue to provide time for them to do so.”

Meanwhile, student demonstrators slept in the building overnight despite facing an alleged threat of arrest and expulsion from officers in Drexel’s police department, who barricaded them into the corridor.

According to Martin, the barricade cut the students off from the publicly accessible portion of the building, though they had access to an exit door that opened onto Chestnut Street.

Martin urged for more transparency from the university surrounding its talks with residents, and thinks administrators don’t believe the Save UC Townhomes Coalition has residents’ best interests in mind.

Over 30 students from the University of Pennsylvania held similar protests this week, demanding the university commit $10 million of its own to the preservation effort.

“All of us are in community, we’ve been in meetings together, we’ve been communicating about the demands,” Martin said. “Folks are supporting each other from inside and outside.”