‘Where are we supposed to go?’ UC Townhomes residents speak out against property’s sale
Residents, housing advocates and faith leaders convened outside the West Philadelphia housing complex to call on lawmakers and stakeholders to protect affordable housing.
After seven years on the waiting list, Krystal Young and her daughter moved into the first place she felt she could call home: an apartment at University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia.
She felt safe, proud of how her daughter excelled at her new school, and dared to dream that the housing stability she’d found could be the first step toward home ownership. She hadn’t envisioned that, three and a half years later, she’d be standing at a podium outside the building, pleading with lawmakers and developers to not allow the building to be razed for new development.
“If I don’t advocate for me and my daughter, who will?” Young said to the crowd gathered outside the affordable housing complex Sunday afternoon.
Residents, housing advocates, and faith leaders convened outside the red and brown brick property at the corner of Market and 40th Streets to call on the city, politicians, and nearby universities to protect affordable housing in Philadelphia and keep the residents of the 70-unit building from being evicted.
“Philadelphia will not get right if you treat UC Townhomes wrong,” said Bishop William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that organizes faith leaders nationally to advocate for housing, education, health care, and racial equity in underserved communities.
After maintaining UC Townhomes as low-income housing for about 40 years, owner IBID Associates did not renew its affordable housing contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and in 2021, notified residents of its plans to sell the 3900 Market St. property to a developer. The deadline for residents to move out, which has been extended multiple times, is currently Oct. 7.
IBID’s decision sparked outrage among residents, many of whom have lived at UC Townhomes for decades, and among housing advocates, who worry the property could be the first of many in Philadelphia to lose their affordable housing status in the coming years.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier tried to intervene on behalf of residents and when negotiations stalled, introduced a bill to halt demolition and protect affordable housing units in future developments. IBID sued Gauthier and the city for “violating its constitutional right” to sell.
On Sunday, Barber accused developers of building properties with public funding, only to sell them when market opportunity arises.
“This ought to be the model of construction, not of destruction,” he said of UC Townhomes.
Residents benefit from a nearby grocery store, a world-class hospital, public transportation, and growing businesses — neighborhood amenities that are not always available to people who live in Section 8 housing, but should be, he said.
A spokesperson for IBID Associates declined comment on Sunday.
Barber was joined by other faith leaders and residents, who took turns speaking at a podium surrounded by hand-painted banners that read " Housing is a human right,” “Stop displacement invest in our communities,” and “Our city is not for sale.”
They urged city leaders, state and national politicians, and academic institutions such as University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, to advocate for UC Townhomes to be maintained as affordable housing — perhaps by contributing money to buy the property on behalf of residents.
They referenced Bible passages about community and caring for those in need, and invoked Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said the city supports the creation of affordable housing as well as IBID’s right to sell and develop its property.
“Affordable housing is and always has been a priority to the Kenney administration,” Lessard said.
Still, he said, “The need outweighs the resources.”
UC Townhomes residents have been offered housing vouchers from Philadelphia Housing Authority to help them find other affordable housing.
But on Sunday, residents said they don’t want to live anywhere else.
“Where are we supposed to go?” said Darlene Foreman, who has lived at UC Townhomes for 29 years.
She raised three children here. All are adults now, moved out and “doing quite well,” Foreman said.
“That’s because they had stable housing,” she added.