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I’m being evicted from University City Townhomes

I've lived here for more than 25 years. I cherish this community and will fight for us and every other tenant facing eviction in Philly until I can't anymore.

Signs erected outside of the University City Townhomes in Philadelphia, where an encampment and protest began because of the planned sale and redevelopment of the property, on July 21.
Signs erected outside of the University City Townhomes in Philadelphia, where an encampment and protest began because of the planned sale and redevelopment of the property, on July 21.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

For four weeks, my neighbors and I have sat out in the 90-degree heat at 40th and Market Streets fighting to save our homes from demolition. We began our protest encampment at the University City Townhomes — renamed the “People’s Townhomes” — on July 9. Resident organizers invited supporters to join us in demanding that the city stop the displacement of our community and thousands of other low-income residents whose Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contracts are scheduled to expire in the near future. On Monday, the Sheriff’s Office dismantled our protest camp. However, we intend to continue our fight for housing justice.

I realize that there may be no way to save our building from being taken over by developers, but we have to try. IBID Associates, the family partnership that owns the townhomes, announced plans to end its federal subsidized housing contract and sell the property last year.

But this is not my fault. My neighbors and I don’t deserve to be summarily evicted with no help from the city because of something out of our control. Too many people like us are kicked out of their homes for similar reasons. I know the city could be doing more and offer displaced tenants like me and my neighbors — many of whom are disabled and have previously been homeless — quality, comparable housing that’s in the same neighborhood, so we don’t have to lose our homes and our community.

I am 65 years old and was raised in West Philly. I am Native American, my mother was Lenape and Spanish and my father was Cherokee, Black, and white. My whole life I have seen the effects of racial discrimination and mass displacement connected to my mixed heritage. I lived in transitional housing for several years. I was finally able to become stable through the subsidized housing at the townhomes, which has meant safety and security for me and my family.

» READ MORE: At University City Townhomes, officers dismantle encampment as residents protest

After we moved to the townhomes, my daughter was diagnosed with kidney failure. Our living room essentially became a clinic with her IV tubes and treatment equipment as she went through home dialysis for over a year. Then my health failed, causing me to have to use a walker. When we got the call that providers had found a kidney for my daughter, we could walk to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (I didn’t have money for a taxi). She still needs access to health care as doctors closely monitor her health. Through these times, I have relied on the close community of neighbors and lifelong friends that I have made at the townhomes. I would not have survived without them. We depend on each other daily. I’m afraid that this stability may be ripped away from us.

What does it feel like to face eviction? I’m sad, but I’m also angry.

I’ve lived at the townhomes for over 25 years. I know we could be doing more to help evicted residents. We could have relocation assistance or our resident council could have the opportunity to purchase the building ourselves. Philadelphia is not the only city dealing with displacement issues, and in Los Angeles, tenants organized to get the city to borrow $46 million to keep them in their homes. We’ve seen similar victories in Minneapolis and the Bronx, where tenants were able to organize and ultimately become co-owners of their properties. In Philadelphia, we have no such laws to protect people being displaced. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier was successful in delaying the demolition, but we demand that more be done for the residents as well as for the thousands of other families displaced in the city.

“I know we could be doing more to help evicted residents.”

Maria Lyles

In Philadelphia, City Council can block or limit development at its discretion and force community processes in other instances. We must have a community-driven development process to repair the harms from past redevelopment processes led by city planners and the University of Pennsylvania. We need economic development, but not if it leads to hundreds of low-income, mostly families of color being displaced.

We are still waiting for the Mayor’s Office to respond to our demands. However, I am grateful for all of the support that our protest camp has received, and we look forward to continuing our fight regardless of the court or sheriff’s decision to dismantle it. I cherish this community and will fight for it until I can’t anymore.

Maria Lyles is a member and organizer with the University City Townhomes resident council. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, is the proud mother of two children, and worked for the Philadelphia School District.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at