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Judge orders University City Townhomes encampment to vacate property

Tenants say the decision won’t stop the protests

A Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas judge has ordered a protest encampment at University City Townhomes to disband.

Judge Joshua Roberts said the protesters were occupying private property against the owners’ wishes.

Roberts’ order did not give a timeline for the disbandment, leaving that to the Sheriff’s Office to carry out. Members of the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition said that even if the Sheriff’s Office takes down the encampment on the property at 40th and Market Streets, their protests will continue.

“We got the whole damn city to work with,” said Melvin Hairston, a 29-year resident of the homes, after the decision.

» READ MORE: Protesters set up encampment at University City Townhomes in solidarity with displaced residents

The encampment, a mix of tenants and supporters, was formed two weeks ago in response to the owners’ effort to sell the property for redevelopment.

IBID Associates announced plans to end its federal affordable housing contract last year and has given the tenants until Sept. 7 to move using federal housing vouchers. Tenants, however, fear landlords won’t take the vouchers and they won’t be able to find affordable housing because of an ongoing shortage. What’s more, residents don’t want to uproot their lives.

Representing IBID Associates, attorney Daniel P. McElhatton argued the tenants’ supporters are trespassing on the property.

“We don’t know who all these people are,” site manager Marla Beckett said at a Friday court hearing, saying their presence poses security concerns.

Hairston, who represented himself and was the sole tenant to attend the hearing, pushed back on that characterization. The tenants vetted the supporters, he said, and they should be viewed as guests.

As many as 69 predominantly Black and Latino families are set to be displaced from the 2.7-acre property. Hairston said the court’s decision doesn’t deter tenants from speaking “against the atrocities of displacement.”

» READ MORE: Owner of West Philly subsidized townhouses plans to sell, displacing dozens of families. It’s an example of the vulnerability of affordable housing.

In a statement, IBID Associates said the protesters were creating an unsafe and “potentially hazardous condition” at UC Townhomes.

“We respect peoples’ right to protest and express their opinions, but these individuals are trespassing on private property and as the court has ruled, they have no legal right to do so,” read a statement from the property owners after the ruling.